Mar 20, 2011

Driving micro-cars in Rome

The season has officially begun. Travelers are here, and my foodie walks are in full swing again, thank you God. I hosted two this week, the last one yesterday, Saturday. Italian Father's Day–a time I usually spend with family, possibly scoffing Zeppole di San Giuseppe.

As I was driving back home—jolty-legged from 4 straight hours of walking (OK, and eating, chatting and eating some more); preoccupied that my little boy's temperature was kept under control, and tired from the week's other 387 chores, appointments and errands—I happened to pull up at a traffic light, behind one of these.
driving micro-cars in Rome

If you don't live in Italy, these expensive little toy cars may be obscure. But they are virtually everywhere here, and especially popular in Rome's more posh neighborhoods. As opposed to other two-seater vehicles, like Smart cars, these are 50 cubic centimeter "quadricycles," built in light fiberglass, and driven much like mopeds and scooters by kids 14 and older. Without a licence.

According to current legislation, a light motorized quadricycle must reflect the following standards: a weight not exceeding 350 kilograms (700 lbs), a maximum speed of 45 kph (28 mph) and a maximum power of 4 kW (5.6 hp).

But after a series of deadly accidents in April of 2010, there has been continued tightening of regulations for under-age drivers, with the introduction of a license system, and a mandatory 12-hour traffic school attendance. The course should cost between €120 and €200, and is due to cover all practical and theoretical aspects of driving, as well as providing training in emergency procedures.

If you've ever been surrounded by a swarm of these speeding contraptions—or worse, hit by one whose brakes have suddenly gone kaput (something that apparently happens quite often)—you too will embrace the new legal ordinance.

Typical micro car situation, posh neighborhood, 5 p.m. on any given weekday/weekend
Loud music thumps from exaggerated sound system.

  • Engines that have been tweaked to increase speed and power, roar mercilessly (illegal, since there are age limits per each cc increment). 
  • Average young driver smokes cigarettes, while texting on iPhone, while driving. 
  • Average passenger is doing the same (except driving). 
  • Micro cars tend to cluster and drive very fast to wherever they are going, often racing each other in traffic (while texting on iPhones and smoking cigarettes). 
  • Cutting off, overtaking in an intersection, and running a red light often come as built-in accessories. 
  • Both driver and passenger give attitude and customarily flip other protesting drivers in the event of above mentioned situations.

Before investing in a micro car, you should know that:
  • Micro cars induce plenty of teen PDA. 
  • The seating limit is hardly ever observed. 
  • Parallel parking a micro car is a misnomer. 
  • Micro cars are very expensive (broadly ranging from €14,000 new, to €4,000 used). 
  • Insurance premiums for micro cars are very expensive (€900 – €200 per semester, according to region, worse in the southern regions). 
  • Micro cars are not environment friendly, although some "electric" models are now being manufactured. 
  • No airbags, no anti-lock braking system, no reverse back-up sensors, reduced steering and suspensions, lightweight body, small tires, poor traction control system. 

I wrote this as a precautionary measure in case my son, 10 years from now, thinks he can ask me for one of these.

Si amore, pedala!
(Sure, babe. Keep pedaling)


  1. Nasty little vehicles; it's astonishing they are usually driven by young humans whose brains have at least a decade or so of development before the concept of risk registers (teen brain science confirms this). In Naples we often see great roaring quad bikes with 8 or 9 year old boys on them, hurtling along the alleyways. Scary stuff.

  2. Oh my. Don't get me started. The younger is supposed to get her learner's permit this week. Three and a half years later, I still have recovered from the first starting to drive yet ;)

  3. haha. good job sending the proactive message...smiles. and i hope that he gets to feeling better...these are things i am glad we do not have...enough problems with drivers at 16

  4. Loud booming music, cigarettes, texting, lousy driving, obscene gestures...this sounds like half the drivers around here, and they're not just young and in small cars. Pick up trucks, Hondas, all ages, all ethnic groups. Yikes, somebody almost kills me every day when I'm driving.

  5. Great post Ele!. We actually owned a Chatenet for a few years, having bought it used from friends who left town. I have to say that it came in very handy for going grocery shopping, and out to dinner on a rainy night. But I sold it a week before my 14 year old got her license.

  6. I was overtaken by one the other day and the occupants were EXACTLY behaving as per your list.

    Those pseudo cars give the driver the impression that they can do everything - and therefore they do - and that they are protected. But in fact those cars do not withstand serious impacts, thus the amount of casualties.

  7. these cars are hilarious! i thought about getting one bc I need to take the driver's test all over again here but my husband said they are for losers and are VERY expensive surprisingly! thanks for the great post!

  8. Homefield-
    Very scary indeed. Wehn I lived in Napoli (in 1999-2001) the quad bike phenomenon had not picked up yet, but I hear it's huge now. Poor parents!

    Yeah, but contrary to what happens here, with these toys, at least yours will be driving REAL cars!

    No wonder my California resident parents insisted on waiting till I was 18!

    I don't think the ethnic group has anything to do with it.

    I drive a Smart car and the perks you mention are exact. But I never really feel 100% safe in it. And we're talking a much more sturdy vehicle than a "macchinina"...

    No, not built for impact at all. They weigh 350 kg!!! That's nothing. I saw 2 guys lifting one that was parked on tram tracks, and they did it effortlessly.

    Very costly and not really a car. You may be under the impression of being protected, when in actual fact all you're doing is driving a very expensive scooter with a hood and 4 wheels.

  9. I entertained the idea of renting on on the Amalfi coast.....the "Italian" agent had me "sold" on it. Sanity prevailed and I called my "American" agent who said "Are you crazy - it's a skate on wheels!" Grazie tante. Can you imagine the hairpin turns near the water. :)

  10. Well the quadricycle is a new concept for me...never heard of them! One of my first memories of Rome was about 25 years ago, on a tour with my mother. We were on a bus that could not get down a road because of cars parked every which way in the street. So two men got off the bus, walked over and picked up the cor and moved it on to the sidewalk, got back in the bus and we proceeded!

  11. Having lived in Italy for a year back in 1993. That all sounds like normal Italian style driving.

  12. Lisa-
    Oh no, not on the Costiera!!! Good you followed your gut.

    Nothing has changed since then, random bystander still help lift badly parked cars and get back to what they were doing as if nothing happened.

    Sadly now kids have wheels too, thus monumantally increasing the population of reckless drivers.

  13. In our quiet little town I have seen a few of these but only driven by elderly people so I had no idea of all this, horrendous other side of the story!

  14. Hello again Lola - I got used to seeing these in France as well. Driven either by rich youngsters or drunken oldsters who had lost their licence to drive a 'proper' car. In each case I learnt to avoid them.


  15. A delightful post Lola..
    I hope little boy is well.

    I can't begin to imagine what it would be like having young kids on the roads. We have little traffic here in comparision to where you are, but even so I don't want kids driving.

    Happy for you that the tourists are in town... wish I was one of them.

    be well
    xx Robyn

  16. Linda~
    Oh, it's terrible. I want to move to Marta!

    Nice to see you back here! Today one pulled up beside me at the traffic light and the beautiful girl driving it looked like she was 12.

    Ciao my sweet smiling muse. Baby boy is better, the sunshine helps too. You should come to Rome, bring the babe to visit!


  17. It makes sense that the youngsters find a car that looks like a lunchbox or a school locker appealing. Unfortunately, when an accident happens, the car is going to fold up like one as well.

  18. TV Food & Drink-
    That's funny and horribly true!

  19. Hello Lola - I have used to watching these in France as good. Driven either by affluent kids or drunken oldsters who'd lost their licence to induce a'proper' car. In each case I wanted to avert them.