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Italy to fine phone-using drivers up to €1,700 in safety crackdown

Big changes to Italy’s highway code are coming and they include strict new penalties for anyone caught using a mobile phone while driving.

Italy to fine phone-using drivers up to €1,700 in safety crackdown
Italian police will soon be able to hand motorists hefty fines for mobile phone use. Photo: Depositphotos

 Fines for drivers caught texting or talking on the phone are set to quadruple to almost  €1700 and drivers could also face a suspension of between one week and two months.

The rule covers using “smartphones, laptops, notebooks, tablets and similar devices that remove the driver’s hands from the wheel even temporarily.”

Repeat offenders will get a fine of up to €2588 and a three-month suspension under the planned rule change.

An Italian mobile police unit. Photo: Depositphotos

The revisions to the highway code aren’t in force yet. The text has been sent out to Italian ministers this week, and the changes will be voted on by the Italian parliament in May.

Drivers can already be fined between  €161- 467 if they text, call or otherwise use mobiles while driving.

READ ALSO: Rome among worst cities in Europe for road safety, traffic and pollution: Greenpeace

But the penalties are often dismissed in court due to lack of evidence, which has led to a rise in investigators seizing drivers' electronic devices after serious accidents in order to determine whether they were caused by phone-related distractions.

While the number of road deaths in Italy is slowly declining, according to Italian statistics institute Istat, mobile phone use is still one of the biggest factors in accidents.

“Among the most frequent misbehaviours were distraction, failure to observe rules and high speed.” Istat said.

“The most sanctioned violations of the Highway Code were excess speed, failures to use safety devices and the use of mobile phones while driving.”

Italy has one of the highest numbers of annual road traffic deaths in western Europe, at 55 deaths per million inhabitants in 2017.

This was more than Spain, with 39.3, and far worse than northern European countries like Norway (20) and the UK (27.1).

European statistics show the number of road deaths annually per country. Image: European Transport Safety Council 

A raft of other road rules have been tightened in the update, including more roadside checks for drug and alcohol use, and heavier penalties for intoxicated drivers. Anyone who refuses to undergo such a test risks being fined between  €422 – 1,697.

There will also be heavier penalties for parking in reserved spaces. Drivers who occupy disabled parking spaces will be fined up to 647 euros and get four points deducted from their license, while the penalty is two points for taking up spaces reserved for recharging electric cars.

On a more positive note, free parking for pregnant women in so called “pink” parking spaces will be extended to parents of children under 12 months. The mandatory daytime use of low beams will be abolished, and more safety messages will be displayed on road signs.

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DRIVING

What are Italy’s rules on switching to winter tyres?

Italian road rules require a switch to winter tyres by mid-November. We take a look at how the requirements (and penalties) apply for the cold season.

What are Italy's rules on switching to winter tyres?

Though we may not have seen much in the way of adverse weather conditions so far – temperatures were far above season average throughout October – the winter cold appears to be just around the corner and so is the requirement for motorists to switch to winter tyres.

The window to make the change opened on October 15th, and the requirement and penalties for not following it will come into force on November 15th. 

By that date, all road vehicles will have to be equipped with winter tyres or, alternatively, have snow chains “on board”. 

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

But, in typically Italian fashion, there’s far more to the rule than that. So, with less than two weeks to go until the winter tyres deadline, here’s what you should know about the requirements.

What areas do the rules apply to?

The Italian Highway Code along with a 2013 ministerial decree state that all road vehicles circulating on Italian soil must have winter tyres or snow chains on board from November 15th to April 15th.

However, the Code also gives local authorities (provinces, individual comuni and private highway operators) the power to modify national directives (including time limits) and/or bring in additional requirements according to the features of their own territory. 

Winter tire

All road vehicles circulating on Italian soil must have winter tires or snow chains on board from November 15th to April 15th. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

The result is a very fragmented legislative landscape, with rules often varying from region to region.

READ ALSO: Explained: Who needs to exchange their driving licence for an Italian one?

For instance, in Sardinia, only drivers travelling on Strada Statale 131 (‘Statale Carlo Felice‘), which connects Cagliari to Porto Torres, are required to have winter tyres on or keep snow chains on board.

Additionally, due to the region’s particularly favourable climate all year round, the requirement starts on December 1st, i.e. 15 days after other Italian regions, and ends on March 15th, that is one month before elsewhere in the country.

To keep track of all the rules applying to your region or province of residence, refer to the following website from Pneumatici Sotto Controllo.

You can also consult the following interactive map provided by Italian motorway company Autostrade per l’Italia. 

What types of tyres do I need?

Most winter tyres are marked with ‘M+S’ (or sometimes ‘M/S’), meaning ‘mud plus snow’.

Some winter tyres might carry the ‘3PMFS’ mark or a symbol consisting of a snowflake encircled by a three-peak mountain range. These tyres are largely recognised as the best tyres for winter conditions.

Both of the above categories are accepted under Italian law.

In terms of costs, the price of a single winter tyre goes from 50 to 200 euros, whereas fitting costs an average of 50 euros.

Tires in a garage.

The price of a single winter tire goes from 50 to 200 euros, whereas fitting costs an average of 50 euros. Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP

It’s worth noting that, by law, motorists are allowed to install just two winter tyres provided that such tyres belong to the same car axle.

But the Italian Transport Ministry advises drivers to install winter tyres on all four wheels to avoid potential grip and braking issues. 

Snow chains

Motorists can keep snow chains (catene da neve) on board as an alternative to the installation of winter tyres. 

However, your chosen set of snow chains must be compatible with your vehicle’s tyres.

Here’s a useful guide on what types of snow chains you’ll need based on the size of your car’s wheels.

Woman fitting her car with snow chains

Snow chains can be used as an alternative to winter tires but they have to be compatible with your vehicle’s wheels. Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

The asking price for a mid-range set of snow chains is generally somewhere between 70 and 90 euros.

Fines 

The Highway Code sets out hefty fines for those who don’t follow the rules.

In city centres and residential areas penalties can go from 41 to 168 euros, while fines can be as high as 335 euros on highways. 

As specified by Article 192 of the Code, law enforcement officers can also choose to issue a temporary ‘vehicle detention’ (fermo del veicolo). In this case, motorists will only be able to resume their journey once their vehicle is equipped with winter tyres or snow chains.

Motorcycles

The above winter season rules do not apply to motorcycles.

However, the 2013 ministerial decree states that motorcycles are not allowed on the roads in the event of snow or icy conditions.

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