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DRIVING

How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties

Speed cameras, restricted traffic zones and parking in the wrong areas can all land you with a hefty fine while driving on Italy's roads. Here's a guide to the main penalties and how to make sure you don't get one.

How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties
What you need to know about traffic fines in Italy and how to avoid them. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

It’s a souvenir nobody wants to open after they return from their Italian travels – a traffic fine.

For tourists driving in Italy, getting slapped with a ticket for breaking the rules of the road is a common problem. This could be because you don’t know the rules of the road when you’re a visitor and naively infringe Italy’s Highway Code.

Unfortunately, as many people find out, the costs of breaking Italy’s traffic regulations can be high and difficult to contend, particularly from abroad.

Here’s an overview of the most common ways you can get caught out and what to do if you do receive a penalty.

Speeding tickets

Going too fast is easily done when driving in Italy, considering that you might not know the speed limit for the road you’re on and that Italy has the most speed cameras in Europe.

In fact, the speed limit not only changes depending on the road you’re driving on, but also depending on the type of vehicle and the weather conditions.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that Italian drivers often aren’t following the speed limit, but the speed other drivers are going at. While they know when and where to slow down for cameras and police checks however, visitors probably won’t.

Keep in mind that urban roads are usually limited at 50km/h – sometimes 30km/h in really built-up areas – and the motorway permits speeds of up to 130km/h.

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

You should be able to see what the relevant limit is for the road you’re on with the figure displayed in round road signs, but for full details, see article 142 of the Italian Highway Code.

If you exceed the speed limit, speed cameras or ‘autovelox‘ will take a photo of your number plate and your fine will be calculated depending on how far over the limit you were going.

You may also see a camera ‘Tutor‘, which calculates the average speed you drive at on a given stretch of road.

Fines start at €42 but can run into the thousands. The above link to the Highway Code has further details for how much you could expect to pay depending on the level of your violation.

The speed limits are not absolute however – there is five percent of leeway, so if you were driving at 72km/h in a 70 zone, you won’t get fined.

ZTL fines

These traffic fines catch out even wily Italian drivers occasionally. The signs can be easy to miss, even if you’re looking for them – you may not be familiar with the ZTL concept at all.

If you see a round road sign, a red circle containing the letters ‘ZTL’, you can’t drive down that street unless you have a special permit (and if you’re just visiting Italy, it’s unlikely that you will).

ZTL stands for Zona Traffico Limitato (Restricted Traffic Zone) and you’re most likely to find them around congested parts of inner cities, and in the historic areas of town centres where streets are narrow and parking scarce. They’re intended to reduce pollution and congestion, so the only vehicles allowed to enter a ZTL are residents or those working for businesses in the area.

If you unwittingly sail past one, the camera will take a shot of your registration number and you’ll get a fine of between €83 and €332, plus administrative costs, according to article 7 of the Highway Code.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

Know the rules of the road to avoid fines in Italy. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

Be aware that you’ll likely have to pay for each time you went down a ZTL road: costs which can quickly mount up if you get lost and are driving around a historic centre in circles.

You may be lucky and be able to pay for just one of these penalties if the infractions all took place very close together. See below for information on disputing fines.

If you’re staying in a hotel within a ZTL, you should be able to drive to it and park there – as long as you communicate with the hotel first that you’ll be arriving by car and you give them your registration plate number.

READ ALSO: What you’ll need to do if you bring a car to Italy from another country

The hotel can then submit that to the database of permitted vehicles on your behalf and you won’t be subject to any ZTL fines.

However, remember that some hotels may say you can drive to drop off your luggage and then instruct you to leave your car outside the ZTL.

Check before travel and keep all booking confirmations and hotel correspondence in case the hotel forgets to enter your car details into the ZTL database.

Parking fines

Parking in Italy can really grind your gears. It may take a long amount of driving around to find a free space and some towns’ paid parking can be costly.

It’s worth researching first where to park and where to find the cheapest spots to save you losing your cool. If you do that, you’ll only end up spending a few euros and avoid much steeper fines.

The amount of parking fine types you can incur in Italy are numerous.

If you don’t use a dedicated car park with a ticket on entry or exit, watch out for the different coloured lines. Blue lines mean you have to pay to leave your car there, usually via a parking metre.

If you find a spot in a parking metre zone, you’ll need your licence plate number when you enter how much time you want to stay for. These metres are required to accept coins, notes and bankcards – but make sure your card is authorised for use abroad if you want to pay this way.

Check how long the payment hours are – some are free after 6pm – 8pm anyway.

Get to know the various parking signs to avoid a traffic fine in Italy. Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

There are also parking apps you can download ahead of time, like EasyPark, which is one of the most useful in Italy as it covers hundreds of Italian cities – and other European countries beyond. You can also try Phonzie, which has the option to buy bus tickets. Alternatively, look on the metre itself for different ways to pay, as some cities have their own parking app.

Parking apps also let you add on more time to your parking, no matter where you are – pretty useful if you’re the other side of town and realise you have five minutes left on your ticket.

Take care with yellow lines, as they are reserved for certain users, such as residents, workers or for going to the pharmacy. 

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

If you overstay or park in the wrong place, the fine again depends on how much over the limit you go. Fines begin at around €40, but can go into the hundreds if you choose to ignore the fine and not pay it – more of that below.

If you see parking spots indicated by white lines, anyone can use those and they are usually free – but always check the roadside for any signs or instructions in case.

Driving in bus lanes

As much as you need to look up for road signs while driving in Italy, keep your eyes down on the road too to check for bus lane markings.

You can get landed with a fine if you get distracted and wander into a lane reserved for public transport.

This can set you back anywhere between €87 and €344, according to article 7 of the Highway Code. 

What happens if I get a fine?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that any infringements you committed on Italy’s roads may take a while to sting.

If you live abroad, the police have 360 days to send you the fine; if the car is rented, the time limitation is the same for foreigners but the period starts from the date of receipt of your data by the rental company. Of course, this may then take longer to then get to you.

This is because the police have 90 days to issue a fine to the vehicle’s registered address in Italy. The car rental company then has 60 days to send the police your data and then the process begins again from the police contacting you directly.

Note that rental companies may charge you administrative costs on top of the fine.

As you will have signed a rental agreement and authorised use of your credit card, they will most likely directly charge your card for the costs plus VAT. Keep records of this in case you manage to dispute the fine and claim back these added fees from the rental firm.

The deadline to pay depends on how you received the penalty.

You have a few options if you do receive a traffic fine in Italy. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

If you found a ticket on your windshield, you usually have 15 days to pay. If you receive it in the post, you have 60 days but will get a 30 percent discount if you transfer the funds within five days, according to article 202 of the Italian Highway Code.

If you exceed the terms of 60 days, the fine will increase and will keep increasing for late payment interest.

The authorities assume no responsibility in postal delays.

You can pay the fine from abroad either by bank transfer or some municipalities allow you to pay online via a debit or credit card.

How can I dispute a fine?

You can appeal to cancel the fine if you have grounds.

It’s worth bearing in mind that it really has to be worth the effort, as sometimes paying the fine immediately with a 30 percent reduction may be the least hassle.

If you choose to appeal, you forego the chance to get a discount by paying immediately and instead risk the fine increasing in the meantime.

Should your fine be truly invalid – and especially if it’s high – you may want to go ahead with navigating Italian bureaucracy to avoid paying it.

However, your reasons must be in accordance with the Highway Code. It’s not enough to say, ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘It was my first time in Italy so didn’t understand that road was restricted’.

Accepted reasons must prove a defect, such as if the fine you receive contains incorrect information.

READ ALSO: Ten Italian driving habits you need to be aware of

Read the report carefully and note any errors regarding the day, time, place and location of the offence, or if the vehicle type or number plate are incorrect.

Other reasons to contest a traffic fine in Italy include traffic signs being obscured by vandalism or vegetation, a parking spot improperly defined or if the photo of your licence plate is illegible.

Check whether the articles of the Highway Code that have been infringed are listed correctly and how to lodge an appeal. If these defects are present, it will be possible to challenge the fine.

You can begin by contacting the municipality directly, but this doesn’t suspend the contestation. At the same time you can lodge an appeal with Prefect and the Justice of the Peace.

Appeals against fines before the Justice of the Peace can be submitted within 30 days of notification or assessment, while appeals to the Prefect can be lodged within 60 days.

This time limit starts from the moment you are aware of the fine. In other words, it runs from the date of receiving the fine.

What happens if I just don’t pay a fine?

The ticket will continue to accrue interest and rise. The municipality may enlist a debt collection agency and at that point, you’ll no longer be able to contest the ticket.

Please note The Local is unable to advise on individual cases. See full details of Italy’s Highway Code here and visit our travel section for the latest updates.

Member comments

  1. What about the “environmental zones” that Google maps announced in areas around Torino and Milano? I assume that my new rental care (diesel) met the requirements but it was new to me and I await my. fines…. Thanks.

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For members

BUREAUCRACY

EXPLAINED: What’s an ISEE and when will you need one in Italy?

There are plenty of Italian acronyms new residents need to be familiar with, and this may be one of the most important. Here’s what it means and why you’ll need it.

EXPLAINED: What’s an ISEE and when will you need one in Italy?

Long-term Italian residents might be already familiar with the ISEE, but to others it’s no more than a mysterious-sounding acronym seen in reports about Italy’s many government ‘bonuses’ and subsidies.

ISEE stands for ‘Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente’, which roughly translates into English as Equivalent Financial Position Indicator.

In typically Italian fashion though, the full name is likely to leave you just as puzzled as the acronym.

Basically the ISEE is a parameter used by Italy’s government and public administration to gauge the overall economic situation of a household. 

It takes a variety of factors into account, though it is for the most part based on the ages, annual income, assets and any physical disabilities of the members of a household. 

You could think of the ISEE as a sort of ‘financial ID card’, which states your household’s level of wealth and financial security.  

READ ALSO: How foreign nationals can apply for an Italian ID card

Sooner or later, all Italian residents end up crossing paths with the ISEE, usually when accessing means-tested government financial subsidies.

For instance, recently-extended discounts on gas and electricity bills can only be claimed by households with an ISEE of up to 12,000 euros. 

ISEE thresholds are also set for Italy’s universal single allowance, nursery bonus and most exemptions in the public healthcare system.

However, a household’s ISEE status is not automatically calculated by the Italian public administration. So those looking to access a state subsidy must go about claiming their own ISEE certificate independently. 

How do get your ISEE certificate?

It may not come as a surprise to hear that getting an ISEE certificate isn’t nearly as straightforward as it should be.

For this reason, even Italian nationals tend to need the help of private professionals. 

Claiming the certificate revolves around completing the ‘Dichiarazione Unica Sostitutiva’ (Single replacement declaration, or DSU); a form asking claimants about their income, assets and size of their household.

Customer speaking with employee in a tax office in Italy

The ISEE system takes into account a variety of factors, including the age, annual income and assets of any given household member. Photo by Andreas SOLARO

You can complete this form yourself, or have your commercialista (accountant) or another professional do this for you.

INPS recently launched a new online service allowing residents can ask to receive a pre-filled DSU form – some questions are automatically answered based on records held by INPS and the Agenzia delle Entrate – and then proceed to complete the document by themselves. 

Once completed, the form must be submitted either to your local Centro di Assistenza Fiscale (Fiscal Support Centre, CAF) or via the National Social Insurance Agency’s (INPS) website.

A DSU form can be submitted either to your local Fiscal Support Centre (CAF) or via the National Social Insurance Agency’s (INPS) website.
 
More Italian bureaucracy:

It can be submitted at any time of year, with the resulting ISEE certificate valid until the end of that same year.

The ISEE certificate is usually available within 10 days of submitting the form, though there might be delays if the info given through the DSU doesn’t match the records kept by the Agenzia delle Entrate (Revenue Agency) and INPS. 

Once the certificate is ready, residents can choose to either have it delivered online in downloadable format or pick it up in person. 

The following INPS web page allows users to work out whether or not they might be eligible to claim certain state subsidies by ‘unofficially’ calculating their ISEE status.

Further info about how to get an ISEE certificate is available on the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Politics’ website (in Italian only).

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