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AIR POLLUTION

‘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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TRAFFIC: The worst dates to travel on Italy’s roads this July

Heatwaves and traffic jams are not a good mix - but both are inevitable during an Italian summer. Here are the busiest dates to avoid when travelling on Italy's motorways this month.

TRAFFIC: The worst dates to travel on Italy's roads this July

Italy’s autostrade (motorways) usually see little in the way of heavy traffic, at least outside of the major cities.

But in summer that all changes, as everyone escapes the baking hot cities for the cooler air of the mountains or the coast.

Not only do motorways become much busier, but many smaller roads, particularly in coastal areas and around holiday hotspots, become completely clogged with traffic.

The increased number of vehicles on the road isn’t just inconvenient: it can also be dangerous, with traffic deaths rising by an estimated seven percent in August.

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

That’s why the Italian government issues warnings each year advising motorists to avoid peak travel times, and even publishes its own calendar showing when traffic is predicted to be at its worst.

The official forecast, produced as part of the ‘Viabilità Italia’ summer travel plan drawn up by the government, emergency services, and and state road agency ANAS, notes particularly busy dates to avoid.

The calendar is colour coded, with a ‘yellow’ spot indicating heavy traffic, ‘red’ indicating heavy traffic with ‘possible critical conditions’, and ‘black’ indicating ‘critical’ (i.e., dire) traffic. 

No ‘black’ days have been predicted for July, but there are plenty of ‘red’ spots: the forecast says drivers can expect to experience heavy traffic on weekends throughout July with conditions worsening towards the end of the month.

Italy July traffic calendar warning
Italy’s July traffic calendar warning. Source: Polizia di Stato.

The roads are predicted to be particularly crowded (a ‘red’ level warning) on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the government’s forecast shows.

Traffic is expected to get heavier on the weekend between Friday 22nd and Sunday 24th July, with highways especially clogged throughout the whole of Sunday 24th.

READ ALSO: How will Italy’s Amalfi Coast traffic limit for tourists work this summer?

The situation is then due to worsen further the following weekend, with the roads starting to fill up from the morning of Friday 29th and a ‘red’ warning appearing from Friday afternoon until the end of Sunday, July 31st.

The last weekend of July is traditionally the date of the first ‘mass exodus’ away from cities as many Italians start their summer holidays.

Traffic is expected to remain at normal levels during the working week (bar Friday afternoons) throughout the month of July.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

While the highways are likely to be jammed at various points over the next few weekends, July is still a better time to travel than in August, when Italians begin their holidays and travel en masse to the beach. 

ANAS has yet to issue its forecast for August, but in previous years there have been multiple ‘black’ weekends warning of hours-long stationary traffic jams, particularly around the main Ferragosto summer holiday on August 15th.

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