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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.

However, it’s worth taking the time to learn Italy’s traffic regulations as the costs of breaking them 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 amount of 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.

As a general rule, you’ll need to keep in mind that urban roads are usually limited at 50km/h – sometimes 30km/h in really built-up areas – and the highway 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 driving speed limit, the speed cameras called ‘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 and there is a 5 percent leeway, so if you were driving at 72km/h in a 70 zone, you won’t get fined.

ZTL fines

These traffic fines have caught out the best of us; they can be easy to miss as you may not even know what they are.

If you see a round road sign, a red circle containing the letters ‘ZTL’, don’t drive down that street unless you have a special permit.

If you’re just visiting Italy, it’s unlikely you will.

ZTL stands for Zona Traffico Limitato (Restricted Traffic Zone) and you’re most likely to find them around congested areas and inner cities. The government introduced them to reduce pollution and so the only vehicles allowed to enter a ZTL are residents or 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

Beware that you’ll likely have to pay for each time you went down a ZTL road, which can 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 city centres’ 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 colours of 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.

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DRIVING

Driving in Italy: What is a ‘Telepass’ and how do you use it?

If you drive in Italy, you'll likely see large yellow 'Telepass' signs on motorways and at car parks. Here's everything you need to know about using the transport pass.

Driving in Italy: What is a 'Telepass' and how do you use it?

Getting around Italy by car might not be the most sustainable mode of transport, but for those hard-to-reach places and medieval hilltop villages, a private set of wheels is sometimes a necessity.

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

Plus, if you’re a resident in a remote location, public transport may be sparse or even non-existent.

Whatever your reason for driving around Italy, you’ll likely spot the so-called ‘Telepass’ scheme at motorway toll points and in car parks.

It can be a handy, faster and cheaper way to use Italy’s roads and parking spaces – and it’s expanded to cover more travel services like taxis and trains too.

Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the system, whether you’re a visitor or a resident.

What is a Telepass?

Italy’s motorways are a network of toll roads. How much you pay depends on how much of the motorway you use, calculated by where you enter and exit.

You can take a ticket and pay when you exit the motorway, or you can use a Telepass.

The Telepass is best known as a device that you stick in your car or on your motorbike, which lets you pass through motorway tolls without queuing or the need to stop and pay with cash or card.

If you have a Telepass, you can drive to dedicated lanes where the sign is displayed and you’ll see yellow lines and sometimes a yellow ‘T’ on the road. You can drive right through once you hear the beep on the device.

The Telepass allows quick entry and exit of motorways. (Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP)

That sound means your entry or exit has been registered and the barrier will lift allowing you to pass through.

You pay a monthly subscription for the device, starting from around €1 per month – although some plans offer the first six months for free, while the charges you incur while driving will be added to that fee.

Once you sign up, the Telepass will be sent out to your home address.

If you don’t want to pay monthly, for example if you’re just visiting Italy, there is a pay-as-you-go option too with a one-off activation charge of €10.

There is also an accompanying app which lets you see the charges and track your expenses.

For more details on the pass and the app in English, see here.

Where can you use a Telepass?

Aside from the motorway function, you can also use the Telepass for various other driving services, such as car parks, accessing ferries and paying congestion fees like Milan’s ‘Area C’ traffic restricted area.

In car parks and on some street parking, you may see the Telepass function displayed in its usual blue and yellow signage.

If you see this sign, it means you can go towards the barrier, you’ll hear the beep and you can enter the car park. On exiting, the exact time you’ve spent there will be calculated and charged.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How do you dispute a parking ticket in Italy?

A motorway toll showing cash, card and Telepass lanes. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

You may also see them at airports when you go to drop off or pick up passengers – and again, in some of their car parks too.

The same system applies, where your time will be automatically calculated and you can enter and exit without a ticket or paying at a machine.

The system has widened its services to cover a raft of transport options, such as paying for train tickets and taxis, paying for fuel, paying your car tax, booking scooters to get around cities and bike sharing.

Telepass also offers scooter sharing services with the app. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

For a full list of their services in English, see here.

There is also a European version of the Telepass which can be used similarly in France, Spain and Portugal. There are plans to expand its use to additional European countries in future.

“The Europe device gives you access to the Autostrada in Europa service so you will be able to travel freely by car or motorcycle without barriers or borders,” the official website says.

You can sign up for this service for a €6 activation fee, with usage charged monthly. Find more details about it here.

Are there any alternatives to the Telepass?

The Telepass system has enjoyed its monopoly within Italy for more than 30 years, but just a few weeks ago a rival competitor launched a similar product – Unipol’s ‘UnipolMove’.

It replicates the Telepass function by means of a device – again, a type of small box that you put in your car or on a motorbike.

The UnipolMove allows automatic payment of motorway tolls through dedicated lanes and an ID system that communicates with the barrier, just like the Telepass.

Paying for the device and charges are currently restricted to Italian IBAN numbers though, so the Telepass currently has wider appeal for international drivers.

READ ALSO: How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties

Unipol’s packages aren’t yet as diverse as those of the Telepass, as you may expect. Due to its recent launch, there is only one type of contract for the UnipolMove, whereas Telepass offers various packages.

The monthly fee is competitive at €1 per month, but at the moment it’s free for the first 6 months.

This new product also offers other services aside from motorway tolls, such as car parking and congestion charge functions.

For more details on the new UnipolMove, currently only in Italian, see here.

For more information on driving around Italy, visit our travel section for the latest updates.

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