The buzzing, weaving hordes of young motor scooter drivers is one of Italy's most common and horrifying street scenes. Now the government is at least trying to license the chaos.

For the past month, youths between the ages of 14 and 17 have lined up to take tests for scooter licenses, the first permits ever required for their age group. Until July 1, they were legally able to roar license-free up and down alleys, streets and highways on scooters with engines up to 50cc in power.

Teach kids the rules, goes the logic of the campaign against two-wheeled anarchy, and they will stop meandering the wrong way down one-way streets, making left turns from right-hand lanes and parking wherever it's convenient. A points system will make them vulnerable to losing their licenses for too many mobile sins.

But in Italy, official wishes often run afoul of unruly reality. With a July 1 deadline now past, less than a third of the estimated 1 million 17-and-under scooter drivers have taken the required classes, passed the exam and received their {lt}italic{gt}patentini{lt}/italic{gt}, the "little licenses" that would make them legal. Students and parents complained that the public schools where the tests were to be given were understaffed. Some schools ran out of the tests. Many teens have decided to take the chance that the deadline for getting the licenses will be extended.

At stake was not only Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's reputation for efficient government -- he has promised to bring a businessman's steady hand to official business -- but also the dreams of preteen boys and girls to do what older siblings had done, speed off to the beach or mountains with pals hanging on precariously. For mid-teens, motor scooters are not just a means of transportation, but freedom machines, no less than cars are for American teens. The free rein that young riders had before July 1 was akin to the way U.S. farm boys used to drive pickups around parts of the American countryside with nary a notion of getting a permit.

The scooters meant freedom for parents, too, who were relieved of having to cart their children to soccer practice and ice cream parlors. All kinds are driven here -- fancy Arilias and Vespas and rickety mopeds, barely more than bicycles.

On the eve of the deadline at Visconti High School, a baroque-faced building set among palaces and offices in central Rome, a group of young drivers awaited their test results or, in some cases, simply idled and harbored hopes that they would not, in the end, need licenses at all. The school gave its sole test last week. Only 60 out of the school's 700 eligible students took it.

Flaminia Silvestri, 17, criticized friends who had not bothered to register for the multiple choice exam. She had taken 10 requisite hours of lessons and passed. "I prepared for this since February," she said. "Most kids didn't get organized. They were just lazy.

"Anyway, my parents made me do it."

Bianca Nalabandian, 15, blamed lack of time. "With all my studies and sports, the last thing I was thinking about was scooter school." She suggested that the exam was insulting. "Who wants to study just to drive a motor scooter?" she said.

Francesca Drudi, 15, who also said she had no time for the exam, suggested she would risk driving without the patentino. "In the beginning, enforcement is likely to be heavy, but over time, supervision will slacken," she predicted.

Such hopes were fed by confusing signals from the government. In early June, Labor Minister Roberto Maroni said the deadline would be extended due to the low number of licenses issued.

But he was quickly overruled by Transportation Minister Pietro Lunardi, who said that issuing licenses was a matter of life and death. "There will be no postponement. I say that between postponement and life, I choose life," he declared. Nonetheless, he looked to ease a looming confrontation between youths without licenses and police officers. Youths found driving without a license can mean of fine of more than $500. "I call on young people to respect the law and on the forces of order not to torment the kids," he said.

Mario Buffone, a Roman beat cop, said he would be lenient. "You can't go right away with a fine," he said. "You have to advise and encourage in a positive manner."

Although the program was announced a year in advance, implementation was chaotic, observers say. A report by the Motorcycle Manufacturers Association said some schools gave the tests only to high school seniors. Others demanded fees, though the courses and tests were supposed to be free. Some teachers announced that the courses were optional, when they were supposed to be required for all scooter operators.

"The problem is that in Italy, the latest in endless confusion reigns," the SOS Consumers organization complained. "Teachers are not being paid to give the lessons, and in any case, the idea of giving free courses is wrong. In Italy, things given out gratis are regarded as having no value."

Licensing the young scooter drivers is part of Italy's long-running campaign to bring its traffic rules in line with European Union standards and bring a measure of order to its clogged streets and highways.

Just over a year ago, Italy required motorbike riders of all ages to wear helmets. In most of the country, they complied, if slowly. In Naples, however, boys and girls continue to eschew the helmets. After a boy was killed in an accident, his friends said he refused to cover his head because it would mess up his gel hairdo.

In view of the mixed success of past moves to get tough, some people here remain skeptical that scooter licenses will do much to curb such practices as passing on the right or driving into incoming traffic. Nor do they think it will stop kids from playing a game often called Bowling for Tourists: the sport of driving directly at a cluster of pedestrian sightseers, scattering them like so many tenpins.