Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Italian youngsters in a road rage over their `little licenses'

AP , ROME

Few sights are more unsettling here than a teen motorist zooming at you with a braces-baring grin and no driver's license in his pocket.

But to the relief of pedestrians, the long-legal practice of allowing kids as young as 14 to cruise without a permit is ending this week.

The change -- which will let teens drive motorscooters and tiny cars only if they are qualified to hold a special license -- is part of new road rules that finally tackle the grand-prix mentality many Italians are famous for assuming when they start their engines and race off into the traffic.

"Speaking as a citizen and as a father, I believe this thing is positive because it will save many lives," said off-duty police officer Antonio Cerruti.

"However, it's worth noting that it depends a lot on the kid -- there's the crazy reckless type that doesn't care about the rules and then there's the type that really pays attention," he said.

With no training and no license, kids aged 14 or more have been allowed to drive small-engine motor scooters and "minicars," which are tiny two-seat automobiles with moped engines.

As of today, they are required to possess a patentino -- "little license" -- after a course and a multiple-choice test.

havoc

Most agree stricter rules make sense, but the changeover is causing havoc.

Although today's deadline was announced a year ago, bad planning means that hundreds of thousands of youths will suffer a sudden driving ban.

This offers a grim prospect for Italian youths who are raised to love motors and tend to disdain the extended use of their feet.

Teens complain that the government promised they could attend free driving courses in public schools but that very few were offered.

This forced many to enroll in pricey private programs at the last minute. And some students who completed the course found lengthy delays in booking their test.

misinformed

"Many of my friends won't get their patentino by July 1 because they have been misinformed," complained 16-year-old Giulia Firmani.

"They thought they could do courses at school but it wasn't like that, and they only enrolled in driving schools at the last second."

Around 700,000 kids want little licenses but by last week only some 220,000 had received them, the transport ministry said.

The Codacons consumers group has pressed for an extension, accusing driving schools of profiteering from the crush of students.

A union of local police workers also complained about having to put up with "the umpteenth bureaucratic malfunction."

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