Italian traffic tickets 2014

Traffic violations and fines in Italy - restricted traffic zones in Florence

Five facts you need to know about traffic violations, ticketing and fines in Italy:

1) Local authorities around the world generate a significant proportion of their revenue from fines levied for infractions of various non-penal laws, notably driving regulations. This happens nowhere more than in Italy where many individuals and firms pay less income, sales and other taxes than they should so that local government seeks other sources of revenue.

From The Florentine (issue no. 95)

Too much of a bad thing

Traffic fines line city coffers

Every 40 seconds, a motorist in Florence receives a traffic violation according to figures recently released by city officials. Traffic police issue approximately 90 tickets every minute, 1,253 tickets a day.

The fines on these tickets average out to about 140 euro per year, per motorist, and they bring about 52 million to city hall each year, making it one of Italy's most heaviest fined cities. Local officials note that the amount of money that enters the municipal budget through traffic fines has tripled in the last 10 years.

Centre-right councilors in Florence argue that the city issues much too many traffic violations. ‘A city that counts some 365,000 residents, should not be issuing traffic tickets that amount to 52 million euro. Milan in comparison issues 81 million euro in traffic fines, but it is considerably bigger than Florence.'

Of the 859,959 traffic violations that issued by traffic police in 2008, 457,613 were issued to motorists who entered the limited traffic zones without the required permit; 250,415 were given to drivers who parked in no-parking zones; 22,904 were issued for speeding; and 7,700 were given for having run a red light.

The number of drivers found drunk has increased slightly as well. In 2008, police issued 303 drunk-driving violations, compared to 289 the previous year.

2) A few years back, very reliable, inexpensive road-side speed monitoring camera systems (Autovelox) were put on the market. These photograph the driver and the car license plate, and record the speed and location of the car. They are therefore effectively machines that print money for local government. Where previously traffic police had to be in place and to be paid to catch traffic offenders, this can now be done automatically with, in Italy (and elsewhere), an almost 100% acceptance by the courts should the evidence be challenged. You can view the locations of these machines on motorways (only) throughout Italy here. There are far more of them on local roads, the number depending on the lust for money of the municipality that owns the road.

3) Most Italian cities are not adapted to huge volumes of vehicular traffic and efforts have been made one way or another to reduce this volume. In Florence and Pisa (and many other towns) there are a number of zones covering the historical and hotel district where cars with special permits only may enter. The cars rented out by car rental agencies do not have these permits. You must therefore take the necessary steps to obtain an exemption each day you drive to your hotel within a restricted zone. (See "Limited Traffic Zones" below).

4) In Italy, the authorities have up to one year after they have obtained the offender's details to issue a traffic ticket to an offender in a foreign country (unlike in Germany, for example, where there is a three month limit). Italian bureaucracy being what it is, the ticket usually does take a year or more to arrive. The first notice will be a "friendly" letter that arrives unregistered. The second notice will be registered.

The recipient of the ticket has 60 days to pay or appeal. You must appeal by writing in Italian to the Prefetto (Prefect) or Giudice di Pace (Justice of the Peace) of the appropriate Provincia. But don't plead ignorance - that won't work. You must present evidence that it was not you in the car or that you were driving to or from your hotel. If you don't pay or your appeal is dismissed, the amount is doubled. Contacting the office of a Prefetto can sometimes be done via email and or even via a web site form - you can see the form for Pisa here. "Codice della Strada" might be the appropriate subject header to choose in this case. To write to or fax the Pretetto or Justice of the Peace, here are the details for Pisa only:
- Prefect of Pisa, Piazza G. Mazzini, I-56127 Pisa, Italy or send a fax to this number 0039 050 549666.
- Justice of the Peace of Pisa, via Palestro 39, I-56127 Pisa, Italy.

5) Car rental agencies are obliged to and always do provide the traffic authorities with the name and address of the individual who rented the offending car. They charge the credit card of the renter a significant amount of money for doing this - sums ranging from 16 up to 50 euros have been mentioned. Many tourists who see this charge against their cards assume that it is payment of the fine itself, but in fact it is only the administrative charge from the car rental company. Note that this fee might be listed in two parts - the charge and the sales tax (IVA, 20%). Don't mistake the IVA for the admin fee and the admin fee for the fine. The reason the rental agencies now have the right to collect this fee is because such a high charge for identifying motorists made it uneconomic for the municipalities to pursue them when it was the municipalities that had to pay the fee.

Note that in some cities (such as Florence, Bologna and Rome), the traffic authorities request the renter's information via an electronic system where the reason for the request is not specified. You will be charged for this information transfer. It is likely but by no means inevitable that a fine will follow. There is always an additional 20% sales tax (IVA) added to the fine and there can be hefty late fees as well.

It is possible that some car rental agreements might allow the rental company to pay the fine and charge your card for the fine, but this is usually not the case - see the example below - and indeed might never be the case. 

Example: the Europcar contract General Conditions number 3 states: " The client undertakes:
c) to directly arrange to pay any fines raised against the hired vehicle during the period of the rental and to refund the Lessor any costs incurred in this respect, in addition to any payments made by the Lessor and the administrative charges quantified in the information sheets available at rental offices." This suggests fairly clearly that at least in this case the car rental company will not charge your card for the fine, only for the administrative charges. READ YOUR CONTRACT if you receive a fine - there seems to be no clear cut rule here. If you are sure the car rental company will not pay and you live outside of the EU, there's not much the Italian municipalities can do about an unpaid fine.

Before the introduction of Autovelox machines, traffic police had a certain amount of discretion and rarely if ever fined a tourist for driving in a restricted zone to his hotel. In certain neighbouring countries that depend heavily on tourism - I won't name them on this web site - the police are SPECIFICALLY INSTRUCTED not to fine tourists for trifling infractions when the tourists' intentions are good. Unfortunately, to date, the local authorities in major tourist destinations in Italy have not seen the wisdom of this approach or at least have not thought of a way to implement it in a practical manner. Indeed, the apparition of EMO (see below) suggests that they regard fining tourists for driving to their hotels as a legitimate method to augment their coffers. Personally, I think they have not correctly assessed the costs and benefits, but I have never yet heard of a local authority anywhere in the world that gave up a good source of revenue except under intense public pressure.

Overall Conclusions

Fines for entering limited traffic zones (only) are unreasonably duplicated for infractions within a few minutes of one another as confused tourists attempt to locate their hotel or find their way out of the ZTL. The thousands of bills for large amounts of money being sent out months after the infraction to tourists in their home countries are undoubtedly a source of bad feeling and even a deterrent to return visits. The long delay before the citation arrives renders the already onerous cancellation and/or appeal procedure unreasonably difficult. HOWEVER, with the introduction of new signs at the entry points (Florence - see below), it has become less credible that tourists don't realise they are entering a limited traffic zone. Don't go running to on-line forums to complain about a "scam". These fines, while unpleasant to receive, are exactly the same as traffic fines the world over.

Please read this entire page carefully. The consensus and official policy is that a car hire company will not pay your fine. BE SURE TO CONFIRM THIS BY SPEAKING TO A PROPERLY INFORMED PERSON AT THE COMPANY YOU USED. If you are unable or unwilling to apply any of the procedures described on this page to have your fine cancelled, consider (carefully) not responding and not paying. Your action or lack of action might take account of whether or not you live in the EU and how much you fear a negative credit rating in the USA. We have seen no evidence to date that true debt collection agencies are being used to collect these fines.

There is unlikely to be any communication between municipal traffic authorities and the national immigration service. Next time you visit Italy, you can't be arrested at an airport for not paying a traffic fine. Come back to Italy soon - we like having you here.

What to do about it if you are ticketed and fined?

First - be aware that handling fees, bank transfer fees and late fees rapidly add up to much, much more than the fine itself. In addition, for some traffic fines, if you challenge and lose, you have to pay double the original sum. If you are still in Italy, take a speeding or parking ticket to any post office and pay it. The amount varies (35 euros for parking in the wrong place at the wrong time, 150 euros for speeding - that kind of thing) but will surely cost less than any challenge you might mount. If you are en route to or from your hotel in a restricted traffic zone (ZTL) and are stopped by a traffic officer, try to explain that you are in transit to your hotel. If a ticket is nevertheless issued, discuss it with your hotel and ask them to send your number plate details to the relevant authority to have the fine cancelled. If you were photographed doing the same thing and receive the ticket months later, there is one procedure you can try: contact the hotel at which you stayed, provide them with the details identifying your ticket and the infringement, and ask them to fax the relevant authority (with a copy to you) explaining that on the specified day you stayed in their hotel and hence were permitted to pass through the ZTL. See "Limited Traffic Zones" below.

Non-EU residents

Not to pay a fine that is sent directly to you at your home outside the EU (as opposed to having been paid by the rental car company and then charged to your card)? If you don't pay, the rental company might eventually pay the fine plus the late fees and pass that on to you via your credit card company. Read the small print of the car rental agreement you signed to see if they give themselves the right to do that. If you no longer have the contract, make contact with someone within the car rental company who can speak authoritatively on whether there is any circumstance where they would pay your fine. Make your final decision to pay or not on the basis of that information.

Note that it won't help for you to cancel your credit card when you return home. The date on which you signed your rental agreement and gave your credit card details to the rental company will predate your cancellation and the car contract will still be honoured by the credit card company which, one way or another, will extract this money from you.

EU residents

Friends - for you life became even harder in March 2007 when EU regulations were implemented such that your local vehicle registration authority can and will cooperate with the authorities in other EU countries to locate you and deliver the citation. We do not know whether they will assist in collecting the fine. We have no information as to whether debt collection agencies have ever been employed for this purpose.

Note that this means that the traffic authorities can and will trace offenders who were driving their own cars. Until March 2007, you had to be in a rental car and be traced via the rental car company.

UK residents

In Britain, the DVLA is forbidden to give details of UK drivers to foreign enforcement agencies. BUT the Italian and other police authorities across Europe have found a simple way to circumvent this rule. The DVLA is obliged to release information to anyone in the UK who has a reasonable cause to need it, so foreign authorities have simply hired UK companies to pursue fines on their behalf. Probably the biggest is Euro Parking Collection (EPC), which acts for municipalities across the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Scandinavia, and is running a pilot scheme with Florence. EPC, like EMO, is more of a translation, notification and collection service than a debt collector.

Everyone

A designated collection agency called EMO ("European Municipal Outsourcing" www.emo.nivi.it is following up many of these fines. If you were staying at a hotel within a ZTL on the day of your infringement and EMO is handling collection, you could ask your hotel to contact EMO confirming that. You yourself should also provide EMO with the relevant details. If the information provided is complete, your fine can be cancelled, but you yourself should follow this up - don't just assume it will happen. EMO seems not to be a true debt collecting agency in the aggressive sense but more an outsourced administrative mechanism. We have no information on whether or not they can give you a bad credit rating if you do not pay.

Recently, we have had reports that the debt collection agency Intrum Justitia is sending out payment requests but so far this large and powerful company seems to be used by at least one car rental agency to recover money owed to the agency itself, such as the notorious admin fee, but not the fines themselves.

For the USA, we have had a couple of reports that the the debt collection agency Cedar Financial attempts to collect unpaid Italian traffic fines. They state that they are in alliance with TMC Group, a transnational debt collecting agency, but seem to be without legal teeth.

Regarding fines paid by the rental car company and charged to your card (if this ever happens), neither your card company nor the car rental companies will assist you unless you can prove that:
- it was not you driving the car,
- you were staying at a hotel within the relevant ZTL on that day, or
- you were nowhere near the area and that it was therefore not your rental car.
The administrative charge made by the car hire company for transmitting your details to the authorities is completely legitimate cannot be challenged successfully. Note once again that this fee might be listed in two parts - the charge and the sales tax (IVA, 20%). Don't mistake the IVA for the admin fee and the admin fee for the fine.

You are assumed guilty unless proven otherwise
(as with traffic offenses world-wide). Many municipalities provide access via their web sites that enable you to see the relevant photographic and other evidence, if they do not send it to you. If it's not you in the photo, a challenge will succeed. If you receive a notice from Florence, you can login here: https://ztl.comune.fi.it/tzv/Login.jsp and view the photographic evidence.

Numero verbale: ---> number of the notification
(solo il numero senza lettere) ---> just the number without letters 
Anno: ---> year
Targa: ---> number plate
Data violazione (gg/mm): ---> date of the infraction (dd/mm)

To check photographic evidence for Bologna, go to this web page: http://guardamulte.comune.bologna.it/guardamulte/jsp/swMulta.jsp

The notification that you have been fined looks like this for Bologna. The first thing to check is that the number plate (targa) refers to the car you were driving.

How to pay a fine:

As noted above, if you are fined while still in Italy, take the payment form that comes with the citation to the Post Office and pay there. The processing charge is very low - one euro or less. Many POs close at 12.30 and don't re-open until next day. In some cases, you can pay the traffic policeman directly and he will issue a receipt that puts you in the clear.

If you are back home and the dreaded registered letter arrives, EU residents and anyone living in a country where IBAN numbers are used can login to their bank account and pay directly to the bank account given in the citation. (BE SURE that it is the IBAN of a municipality or EMO - scammers are well aware of the possibilities here, but even the cleverest scammer cannot know where you were driving on a certain date eight months ago - the traffic department can know.) There will probably be some identifying material (citation number, car license plate number) that you should enter into the Reason for Payment or Comments field. Intra-EU transfers are fairly inexpensive or free, especially when using a PO bank account.

If you live in areas where IBANs are not in use (this includes the USA), you'll need to go to your bank and make an inter-bank transfer (a "wire") or, if the citation came from EMO, go to their web site, log in using the information provided in the letter they send and pay by one of the methods they offer. It's reported that they accept VISA and Mastercard payments.


How to avoid being fined in the first place:

Speeding. This is quite easy to resolve as far as the very numerous speed cameras dotted along the motorways and country roads go. Know what the speed limit is and keep your speed within that limit as far as this is reasonable. Watch for the warning sign (an actual and prominent sign on the side of the road - below, left) and the white stripes on the road itself, and slow down as you pass the camera (all Italians do this). The latter is housed in a large grey box and is easy to see (below, right). Aside from generating revenue, this is the actual purpose of these cameras - to slow traffic down, if not everywhere, then at least frequently.

Speed camera warning sign

Speed camera warning sign

Speed camera housing

Speed camera housing

Other common offenses are parking in restricted parking zones contrary to the rules and driving in bus lanes. Take the trouble to look for, read and understand the parking signs. Almost all towns of any size in Tuscany have these parking restrictions in their historical centres. Try to use the parking areas (usually metered or with a custodian) provided near the entry points. In many cases the latter are well thought out and convenient (at Arezzo and Sansepolcro, for example).

Limited (Restricted) Traffic Zones - ZTL (Zona a Traffico Limitato) are a problem. These zones are areas where cars with special permits only are allowed to drive and are found in many Italian cities and towns. The signs are present at the limits of the zones but not within them, so that if you miss the sign you don't get a second chance. In addition, they sometimes apply only to certain hours on working days. Pisa is notoriously tricky - I recommend not driving in the city centre of Pisa at all. In Florence it is crucial to be aware of the ZTL signs and restrictions. Failure to abide by the rules will cost 80 euros or more each time you enter one of these areas.

Click here for the Florence ZTL map

Click here for the Pisa ZTL map

The ZTL sign to the right says:

This is the ZTL designated "A".

Traffic is limited between 8 am and 8 pm.

The prohibition applies to petrol and diesel vehicles of type:
Euro 0-1-2 (this refers to the exhaust system).
PA vehicles from outside the province.

Exceptions are vehicles of residents of ZTL Zone A and others under some regulation OS.

Delivery vehicles under 3.5 tonnes may enter during the hours indicated.

Limited Traffic Zones - ZTL (Zona a Traffico Limitato) sign

Click to zoom.

NEW

New and much more evident signs are being installed at the camera-equipped entries to the ZTL in Florence. To date, these are located at via Romana-Piazza Tasso, Borgo San Frediano, via dell'Agnolo and Corso dei Tintori. The lights are red when the limitations are in force and the notice is written in Italian and English.

ZTL traffic sign in Florence

It is permissible to drive to a hotel within the restricted traffic zones or to a parking garage, but IT IS IMPERATIVE that the hotel or garage communicates your license plate number to the traffic authorities. Do not assume that this will be done - ask them to make the call and then check later that it was made. My advice is to ask your hotel about this before you arrive. If they appear not to have experience in this sphere, then don't drive in town at all. Use a taxi and rent a car from a location outside the ZTL for excursions into the country. If you are arriving by car from elsewhere, park outside the restricted zone and walk or use a taxi to reach your hotel.

The official instructions for Florence

Non-residents are prohibited from driving and parking within the ZTL at the following times:
On weekdays (Mondays through Fridays): from 7.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.
On Saturdays: from 7.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Tourists
in cars who need to travel within the ZTL to reach their accommodation facilities or a garage can obtain a temporary access permit, although they should still pass through the authorized ‘access points’ only, excluding the lanes reserved for public transport and the pedestrian zones which may not be used at any time.  In order to obtain this permit, the number plate of the car concerned should be given to the relevant hotel (or garage) which will undertake to forward the same to the appropriate office.

This permit will be issued for a maximum of two hours for baggage transport purposes and, therefore, only on the arrival and departure dates (a permit may also be issued to tourists without a hotel booking entering the ZTL to find accommodation).  For the rest of their stay, clients should park their car outside the ZTL, in a commercial garage or in the hotel’s own private garage.

Other peculiarities of Florence: blue lines indicate open (but very likely metered) parking. Do not park where there are white lines. These areas are reserved for residents and those with special parking permissions.

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