Driving in Italy
Having a car is a fabulous way of exploring Italy. Car rental is quite reasonable (starting from 250 to 300 euro per week). All the major car rental firms are present in Italy, usually with offices at the airports and in the city centres.
Italian drivers have an unfair reputation as bad drivers. On the contrary, I think they are very skillful and attentive - the difficulty is that they operate from a different paradigm. Like other aspects of Italian life, driving rules tend to be treated with a certain flexibility, eg respecting give way signs, lane markers, pedestrian crossings (never assume that they will stop for you), parking signs etc. As a visitor, however, the onus is on us to adapt to their style rather than expecting to conform to ours.
Because of the narrow, crowded streets, complicated one-way streets and limited parking, I feel it is best to avoid driving in the cities. My tip is, where possible, to pick up and drop off your hire car at the airport and use the shuttle service to get in and out of town.
Italy has an extensive freeway system, the autostrade (green signs) which is an excellent way to get from A to B, although it can be a little boring. The 120 km per hour speed limit is often exceded (and can seem more like a minimum than a maximum speed). I'd suggest only using the outer fast laneonly to overtake. On a three lane road, I'd suggest sticking in the middle lane!
Be prepared for congestion on the autostradas that circle the big cities during morning and evening peak hours, as they are often used by commuters. If possible, plan longer trips for Sundays and public holidays, as semi-trailers and heavy transports aren't allowed on the autostradas on these days.
As convenient as the autostradas are, as a rule, I prefer to stick with the smaller state highways (blue signs) and local roads (SP) - less pressure, more interesting and more enjoyable!