Rise of 'the centaurs' as Italians take to their scooters with passion

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fifty-one years after tough guy news reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) scorched through the streets of Rome on a Vespa scooter with "Princess Ann" (Audrey Hepburn) clinging on, Italians up and down the peninsula are more hooked than ever on the two-wheeler habit.

Fifty-one years after tough guy news reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) scorched through the streets of Rome on a Vespa scooter with "Princess Ann" (Audrey Hepburn) clinging on, Italians up and down the peninsula are more hooked than ever on the two-wheeler habit.

A Roman holiday it's not. Traffic accidents in the city seem always to feature scooters in the underdog role, and it is not unusual to see two or three scooter prangs in a day.

But Italians cannot get enough of the things. A survey by the Automobile Club d'Italia (ACI) published this week found that well over one third of people questioned in cities around the country use a two-wheeler, up from one quarter four years ago. And, despite the obvious hazards, the largest area of growth is among women and the over-50s.

Simona Nicoletti, press officer for Rome's municipal mobility councillor, declined to refer the question of why the number of centaurs (as Italian newspapers describe two-wheeler drivers) is continually increasing to the councillor himself because "the question is banal - the answer is obvious: with a scooter you get through the traffic quicker".

But she conceded that the fundamental reason was the inadequate development of city transport systems, which, in turn, she blamed on the "archeological patrimony of the city, making the building of new underground lines difficult".

Franco Luccesi, president of the ACI, said the dramatic increase in scooter use - up 11 per cent on 2002 - was "an inevitable riposte to the rules limiting the use of four-wheelers in urban areas". Rome alone now has 320,000 two-wheelers, one for approximately eight men, women and children in the city.

In addition to being extraordinarily numerous, Italy's two-wheelers are also strikingly lawless. Thirteen per cent of users observed by ACI did not bother (like "Joe Bradley" and his royal passenger) to wear helmets; 7.8 per cent had their lights off, 8.7 per cent crossed traffic lights on red, 10 per cent overtook on the wrong side, and two per cent went the wrong way down one-way streets.

More than four out of 10 two-wheelers logged for the survey were guilty of one or more infraction. The centaurs of Naples were the most easy-going, more than 90 per cent of them breaking the law. Teenagers riders will be required to take out licences from 1 July, but 16 per cent said they were not going to bother.

A television news presenter, Massimo Giletti, who claims to travel in Rome "always and only by scooter" told La Stampa newspaper, it was "absolutely true" that two-wheelers are undisciplined.

"The explanation, while not justifiable, is simple," he said. "We don't want to be slaves to the traffic. So we use every possible means to avoid being stuck in queues. Anyone who jumps on a motorino (scooter) becomes a little anarchic."

From 1 April next year, the centaurs will have another law to ignore: outside city centres they will be obliged to wear fluorescent reflecting vests. Another item that Peck and Hepburn wouldn't have been seen dead in.

Comments