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Education Matters: Of roundabouts, Vespas and sheep

June 09, 2011|By Dan Kimber

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Just to follow up on last week’s travel notes, a few words on driving in Italy.


I’m a firm believer in playing by the rules of my host, whether it be a family, or a nation, that has invited me in for a visit. After two weeks of driving from Milan to Florence to Venice and many parts in between, I was just beginning to learn different laws of yielding and passing and blending with other cars and pedestrians — and even contending with the millions of Vespas that absolutely rule the roads in Italy.

Vespa, a brand of motor scooter, means “wasp” in Italian, and that is a perfect match for these vehicles that buzz in and out of traffic, coming out of nowhere and completely unhindered by the rules of the road that cars must obey. Boys, girls, men, women, the very young and the very old — everyone, it seems, rides a Vespa in Italy. They do add a certain element of adventure to driving in the country and for every Vespa, there is one less 3-ton vehicle on the road. That’s good news for everyone.

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I re-acquainted myself with Italian intersections (roundabouts) and, here again, I think we can learn from our friends across the sea. Rather than have half the nation’s cars waiting at red lights at any given time, there is constant movement as vehicles enter and merge with each other in a circular pattern and exit, most often without slowing down. The continuous flow of traffic saves time and saves an enormous amount of fuel that our red-light/green-light stopping-and-starting system wastes.

On the other hand, I wasted a good amount of gas looking for places in Italy where road signs are confusing or, more often, non-existent. My direction-finding ability is not good under normal circumstances and, even equipped with a GPS chip in our phone, I managed to get lost/misdirected more times than I’d care to admit. I’m chalking up some of that to a cheap chip. What other explanation could there be for a voice that tells me, “Please make a U-turn,” while I’m driving on the autostrada (their freeway)?

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