The Italian Almanac


Italian News - October 15

Since they were introduced in 1948, the three-wheeled Ape (Bee) has been the main mode of transport for thousands of Italian peasants. Until now the owners of these curious but utilitarian vehicles - which carry two people at a squash and transport large cargoes of firewood, farm tools and fruit and vegetables - have not needed a driving licence. But that is about to change.

A new law means drivers will have to be qualified, even though the Ape's top speed is 28mph. As a result, driving schools are being swamped with ageing Italians trying to come to terms with the highway code for the first time. The move is part of a road safety initiative by the government. Drivers of Apes and scooters are now required to qualify for a licence, although the test is not as rigorous as that needed for a car. Many of the elderly drivers are also being made to have sight and hearing tests.

Filippo Niciarelli, 80, from Orvieto in Umbria, has not taken kindly to being told that he has to buy spectacles for the first time after he failed the sight test. He was also bemused at instructions to sign up for eight classes at his local driving school. He uses his green Ape to make a daily journey of two and a half miles and back, from his vegetable garden to his house. "All the government is doing is trying to strangle us with more bureaucracy," he said. "It's not as if I'm driving on a motorway."