‘Smog emergency’ forces traffic bans across Italian cities

Italy's biggest cities have been forced to ban hundreds of thousands of vehicles from the roads after days of persistent smog.

'Smog emergency' forces traffic bans across Italian cities
Milan and other cities have ordered traffic restrictions to reduce high air pollution. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Air pollution has spiked above normal levels for up to ten consecutive days in Milan, Rome, Florence, Turin, Venice and several parts of Emilia-Romagna. 

With the air not forecast to clear for several more days, several cities have introduced restrictions on driving, central heating and open flames, including a ban on diesel vehicles in central Rome that is expected to affect some 700,000 drivers.

Diesel vehicles are banned within Rome's 'Fascia Verde' green zone on Tuesday. Image: Comune di Roma

The alarm concerns levels of fine particle pollution known as PM10, which can be linked to respiratory disorders, allergies, poisoning and cancer.

Warm, windless weather has helped trap pollution and created what's been dubbed a 'smog emergency' across large parts of Italy, with dozens of towns reporting poorer than average air quality over the past fortnight.

The measures in place across Italy on Tuesday include:

  • Rome: ban on all diesel vehicles in the 'Fascia Verde' limited traffic zone between 7:30-10:30 am and 4:30-8:30 pm, with all-day restrictions on higher-polluting vehicles in emissions categories Euro 0-3.
  • Milan: heaviest polluting diesel vehicles (Euro 1-4) are banned and drivers are required to switch off their engines while stopped. Bonfires, barbecues and fireworks are also banned.
  • Turin: ban on diesel vehicles up to and including older Euro 5 models for most of the day.
  • Emilia-Romagna (Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna): Euro 1-4 diesel vehicles are banned from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. Heating is limited to 19 degrees C in homes and 17 degrees in shops.
  • Venice: all-day ban on two-stroke Euro 0 motorbikes, Euro 0-1 petrol cars and Euro 0-4 diesel cars, as well as Euro 1-3 diesel goods vehicles.
  • Florence: restrictions for most of the day on two-stroke motorbikes, Euro 1 petrol vehicles, Euro 2-3 diesel vehicles, and Euro 1-2 goods vehicles.

Italy's permitted limit for PM10 pollution is 50 micrograms per cubic metre, above which air quality is considered dangerously poor.

Air pollution is typically worst in northern Italy, where densely populated cities, industry and farming create emissions and mountains trap it in low-lying plains. Industrial Brescia, Monza, Milan, Turin, Venice and other cities in the Po Valley regularly exceed safe limits.

But Rome too, where sea winds help clear the exhaust fumes spewed out by relentless traffic, has seen its air quality plummet this month. At least four of Rome's 15 monitoring stations measured pollution above the limit on Sunday, the most recent check published, in some cases for the tenth time in 12 days.


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How to avoid car hire scams in Italy

Car hire scams exist in Italy as much as anywhere else, but a few precautions will lower your chances of being hit with unfair charges on your next trip.

How to avoid car hire scams in Italy

While most people who hire a car in Italy do so without any major issues, the country has its fair share of scams.

After reports from travellers who had been hit with bogus fines for alleged damage to vehicles they’d hired in Italy, The Local put out a survey asking readers to share their experiences.

As well as providing accounts of negative encounters with rental agencies, those who responded also had a wealth of advice to offer about how not to get caught out when hiring a car in Italy.

READ ALSO: Tell us: Have you been the victim of a car hire scam in Italy?

Here’s what you had to say.

Do your research

It might sound obvious, but many people skip a key first step when renting a car in Italy: googling the name of the company you plan on using.

“Use a reputable firm. Check reviews,” says one reader of The Local who says she was charged €500 for bogus ‘damages’ when returning a car at Malpensa airport.

If she’d done a basic background check on the company, she adds, “I would never have booked with them in the first place.”

Is one provider offering significantly below-market rates compared to all the others? There’s probably a good reason for that.

“Avoid the cheapest firms,” cautions Berth Danermark, a professor emeritus who lives in Zambrone, Calabria: “They make their profits from scams.”

Get insurance

Almost all our readers strongly advised getting good insurance so you’re protected in case of a scam (as well as for genuine damage and accidents).

This saved at least one respondent from having to pay a steep fine after their rental agency falsely claimed their vehicle had been scratched on its return to the airport.

“We had a flight to catch so signed for insurance claim. It was so obvious it was a scam and if I had more time I would have dug my heels in,” they write.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the longer-term alternatives to car hire in Italy?

Often credit card companies offer car hire insurance or act as a buffer between you and and rental company, which is one reason you may want to pay by credit rather than debit card when given the option (see below for more on this).

One reader who returned a car to Catania airport in Sicily says they were charged €500 for an alleged scratch on the inside of a door.

“We used our American Express card to pay for the rental so we disputed the charge with them and they dealt with the car rental agency,” they say.

Credit vs debit cards

Bethel Ayo, an engineer from Sweden, recommends using a debit card instead of a credit card to rent cars, as it prevents the company from accessing funds unless you’ve authorised the transaction.

While some firms do allow you book with a debit card, many won’t, for this exact reason: it puts them in a more vulnerable position if someone does damage their vehicle.

Because of this, companies that take debit cards usually only offer this option to customers over a certain age (typically, 25-and-up), and will often want a sizeable deposit to cover their backs.

Get photo (and video) evidence

You’ve waited patiently in line, you’ve signed all the paperwork, you’ve been given the keys, and all you want to do now is speed off on your holiday and leave the garage in your dust.

But before you do, say readers, make sure to spend a few minutes putting together a timestamped photographic record of the exact state that every inch of your vehicle is in before it’s left the car park.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I buy a car in Italy if I’m not a resident?

Donald Patrick Fletcher Law, a retired doctor who lives outside Pisa, says he learnt his lesson the hard way after his credit card was charged €800 for alleged damages, weeks after he had returned a vehicle to Pisa airport.

“Unfortunately I had not taken any photos (something I do routinely now) to refute their claim,” says Law. “As I had no evidence I could not prove my case and so didn’t contact the police.”

Insist on a return inspection

Many users of car rental companies in Italy will be rushing to catch a flight when they return their vehicle and long gone by the time they receive notice of any fines – something agencies operating in bad faith know they can take advantage of. 

If you can, try to budget the time to have a company representative look over the car with you and provide verbal confirmation that there’s nothing wrong before you release it back into their custody.

“Insist on an inspection in your presence when you return the car,” says a reader based in northwest Italy.

If you can’t persuade a representative to look over the car with you – some companies insist that you drop the vehicle off and turn in your keys remotely, without any in-person contact – take further timestamped photos of the state of the vehicle, in case it’s contested down the line.

Have you been the victim of a car rental scam in Italy? Tell us about your experience here.