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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?
Here's what you need to know about Italy's 'telepass'. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

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 vehicle, which lets you pass through motorway tolls without queuing or the need to stop and pay with cash or card.

If you have the device, 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.

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

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

How do you get a Telepass?

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.

Check the Telepass website here for details of current offers and pricing plans. 

You can sign up via the website, or the app, through which you’ll also make payments and keep track of your subscription and expenses.

Offers available via the app appear to require customers to provide a phone number registered in Italy, France, Germany, the US or the UK.

Once you sign up, the Telepass can be sent out to your home address. You can also choose to pick it up from a Telepass point, located at gas stations around Italy.

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.

Where can you use a Telepass?

As well as for motorway access, you can also use the Telepass for various other things such paying for ferry tickets, parking, and congestion charges such as those in 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.

If you have the Telepass app, you can also use it for everything from paying for car hire and train tickets to paying for fuel or bike sharing schemes.

For a full list of the 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 six 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.

Member comments

  1. Should also mention the Via Card. It’s a prepaid card that can be used at the tolls and there are usually special lines. It’s not automatic like Telepass, but the lines are often shorter and quicker than the coin lanes. The Via Card lanes also accept regular credit cards, which I’ve use on occasion. You can buy Via Cards at Punto Blue offices that are usually located near entrances to the autostrada and at some tobacco shops.

    More info here:
    https://www.autostrade.it/it/il-pedaggio/viacard

    Yet, if you want a truly Italian experience, use the coin gates during peak traffic time.

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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