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I had to unstick a bad deployment from a group of Executive Protection Specialists. A group of Canadians deployed to Palermo to protect their charge that was recently on a fall vacation in the ancient city.  We had done the front work for them and had many suggestions, in particular what not to do; A) Do not use large vehicles, B) Do not use automated navigation software, C) Do not stay in the old part of Palermo – Do – 1) Use smaller cars, much smaller, 2) Use local drivers, 3) Always add extra time in a schedule for any driving.

The team landed in Palermo and immediately rented at the Palermo- Sicily (Italy) airport three full-sized vans all equipped with navigation software.  They put in the destination coordinates and off they went to the hotel in the central part of Palermo – across from the Teatro Massimo.

Almost immediately they had problems.  Driving in this part of the world is more of – to put it kindly – a sport.  In reality the drivers in Sicily are a conundrum.  The Sicilians are some of the nicest most hospitable people I have ever had the chance to meet.  But once in charge of a motor scooter or a car – they become really, how can I put it –  difficult.  The lanes on the highway or road are but a whiff or a hint of a suggestion. The speed signs might as well hang in a closed museum. The speeds chosen by a driver are random, from very slow on the Autostrada (highway) to lightening fast in the narrow stone streets and alleys of the city.  Add to this mix the damn motor scooter that cut around cars, between cars, off sidewalks, pass on the left in the city plunging head on into oncoming traffic only to duck back into your lane skimming off your bumper.  My favorite move is to make a left hand turn from the right lane across two lanes of traffic.  The only term that comes to mind for these scooter people is “future organ donors”.

So, exiting the airport, one of the vans slammed on the brakes trying to avoid what they thought (and in most other locations they would have been correct) was sure to be a head-on collision with the van.  The passengers of the van were none too amused nor were the two vans following.  Getting into town, as they exited the freeway and were on one of the wide (hint of irony) boulevards, the second van, following the first, made a proper left turn only to have a collision with small car passing on the left, into oncoming traffic, hitting- quite violently- the left side of the van.  The police were at the intersection directing traffic and approached both drivers.  The driver of the van was yelled at for not watching for the idiots passing on the left and the other driver was cited – but plead that it was the van drivers fault as he did flash his light and have  his passing blinker on.

The first van and the third van continued on, as there were supposed to but got lost as the navigation software told them to take the Via Roma but the Via Roma was closed due to a festival – it also suggested that the drivers take several streets that were a one way street – the wrong way.  Following the instructions as best they could the vans found themselves in the small streets meandering about and around the city.  The lead driver did his best, but made a mistake of judgment following a smaller car, inadvertently got the van wedged between a parked car on the left and a wall on his right.  He had sufficient velocity and mass to shove the parked car up against a building. Thus the parked car and the van were literally wedged in between a building on the left and a wall on the right.  The third van was stuck between the accident in front of him and several honking cars and scooters behind him.  All three vans were down. Two vans in an accident and one trapped.  The charges panicked.  It appeared to be just the sort of set up they had seen in movies using the wrong tools in the wrong place.

Our American advance man was still in Palermo and came to the rescue.  He immediately retained a local attorney to settle the claims, one due from the team of the car that hit Van #2, and three owed for a car, a building and a wall.

He also rented several small Fiats, 3 Fiat 500s and 2 Fiat Pandas and hired some local drivers.  The hotel was booked and paid for and there was nothing they could realistically do about that.

The initial shock of the size of the cars and how the local driver drove wore off and it all became a bit of entertainment. As the family could not all fit in one car, several cars and drivers had to be used and the drivers were instructed not to use the same paths – as best as possible.  The family members began to bet each other whose car and driver would arrive first.  The family members also began egging on the drivers, but were told very nicely that “Boss Short said no racing” – but I am sure there was some competition based upon the report back.

There are some cities that are just not ready for North American drivers or vehicles, nor will they ever be ready. There are also some places that unless you can adapt and drive like the locals – you should not drive.  Our front man told the story of 4 cars at a red light outside of Catania; a police car, our front man, and the two other cars whose drivers looked left and right and went through the red light.  Our front man looked at the driver of the police car and put his hands up in the form of the Italian gesture of “what?” The police office smiled and shrugged her shoulders with the response of “meh”.

This was off-season in the fall – it is worse in summer with the holiday makers and the summer heat.

This Executive Protection article was written or edited by Baron James Shortt, the Executive Director of the IBA.

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