After 15 months, I received 2 "bills" for supposedly driving (or stopping) in an unauthorized location while trying to locate the place to return a rental car by the Termini station in Rome. At no time did the car leave the well-traveled area around the train station. Is this something to worry about?
In general, yes. You may have inadvertently driven in a limited traffic zone (ZTL) restricted for residents or certain vehicles (many well-traveled areas in Italy have such restrictions to limit traffic). I received a ticket in 2010 for driving in a ZTL in Florence in 2009 on my way to return my rental car after driving throughout Tuscany. My saving grace, however, was that the infraction occurred on the same day I checked in to my Florence hotel, so they were able to get my ticket waived. That may be your only saving grace, too. Other than that, my advice would be to pay the fines. There are some that may say to risk it and not pay, but that's just not legal. Plus, there have been some reports that some cities are giving delinquent tickets to collection agencies.
I have not gotten a ticket in Italy since I moved to the US (I can't even count the ones I got when I was living in Florence), so I don't know what the consequences would be for a non resident not to pay.
I know that several jurisdictions (for example the City of Florence does) use International Credit Collection agencies to collect unpaid fines from overseas residents.
Of course you can dispute your fine (also in writing) with the Prefect of Rome or a Giudice di Pace (Peace Judge), but there are statutes of limitations for you to do so from the time you receive the fine. Also if you don't pay and the City of Rome assigns the debt to an International Collection Agency, you can certainly dispute the debt with the collection agency. I doubt the collection agency will take you to court in the US if you don't pay and dispute the fine because it's more expensive than the fine they can collect and because the burden of proof would be to onerous on their part, since they would need to prove you were actually the one driving the rental car at that moment in a restricted traffic zone. The worst it can happen is that they report it to a Credit Rating Agency (but you can also dispute it). Plus you might have to deal with the agency's harassing tactics.
Another possibility is that eventually the rental car company has to pay for the fine, if you don't pay. If that is the case the rental car company will charge your credit card for the amount and since the rental car contract you signed says that you are responsible for paying the fine, you might have a hard time disputing the charge with the credit card. I don't think the City of Rome will send the fine to the rental company, but it's a possibility.
I'm somewhat surprised you got a ticket at Termini, since Termini is not inside the ZTL in Rome. You must have veered greatly off course. Unless you were fined for traveling on a bus lane.
What you have likely received so far are charges from the car rental company for giving the traffic authorities your name and contact information. Still to come are the actual fines for violating the ZTL.
More likely you may have driven in some restricted traffic lanes such as lanes reserved for bus around Termini. Unfortunately it may be something to worry about. Did you actually receive a bill or was it a charge to your credit card?
You may find it helpful to have a look at THIS website, which appears to be reasonably current. While this seems to refer mostly to violations occurring in Tuscany, I suspect there will be similarities with other areas to.
The way things usually work is that you will get a charge on your credit card from the rental agency for each violation. This is an administrative charge for handing over your contact information to the authorities and rarely does the rental agency pay the fine itself. This charge is written into your rental agreement and will be incurred for each and every violation you may have committed.
Then you will also get the actual ticket notice. It can take a year or two, so 15 months is about right. It should say on the ticket(s) what the violation as for. They are very strict in Italy about ZTL, bus lanes, restricted lanes, traffic lights and speeding and each time is a separate offense. Contesting a ticket is nearly impossible because of the time, language and distance. There have been reports of tickets being turned over to collection agencies for non-payment, but Interpol will not issue a warrant ;-)
I have two outstanding restricted zone tickets from May 2013 (just found out about them a couple of months ago), and am planning to go to Rome at New Year's.... are they going to arrest me at the airport? Thanks.
^^ Very doubtful. The worst we have heard for unpaid tickets is that they get turned over to collection agencies.
Maybe not, James Wallace, but now is the time to deal with your obligation.
So, JG, do you also approve of visitors to the United States ignoring traffic tickets? Or do you think the American way of issuing tickets is infallible, but those darn Italians .... well, you know how inefficient they are.
JG, just because someone doesn't think they broke the law doesn't mean they didn't break the law. It's a well known fact on this and other forums that traffic tickets from Italy can take a year or more to catch up to you. The first notification comes in the form of charges on the credit card for processing fees from the rental company. Then come the ticket(s). You'll get a charge for each ticket. The authorities have the proof in the form of pictures and with the rental contract showing that the car was rented by the OP. What more proof do you want?
The simple fact is that people rent cars in Italy without knowing all their traffic rules. They end up breaking rules unintentionally but the rules are still broken. There are fines to be paid just like here in the States when you break a law and get caught. Would you refuse to pay a fine if you were caught on camera running a red light? Just because you're in a different country doesn't mean you don't have to obey their laws or pay a fine when you get caught breaking them.
Apparently most of you have not been caught by a traffic camera in the US. In Ohio at least, to fight the ticket you have to prove that the car in the photo is not at fault, the burden of proof is on the car owner, who gets the ticket, not the driver. Same in Italy, the person who rented the car is responsible, the photo is the proof.
As for paying fines for breaking the law in other countries, why is that not a responsibility of the traveler?
Obviously the OP didn't believe she did anything wrong, so the burden of proof is on them. Do they have proof that you violated a law? A photo? Innocent until proven guilty is just another right to be tossed aside?
Traffic camera enforcement is very common throughout Europe, though it is just starting to spread in the US so many here are not used to it. The proof is the photo taken of your vehicle doing whatever the violation is. To fight a traffic infraction there or in the US, you must somehow prove that the photo is NOT your vehicle or that there was an error in the system.
I don't know about the cameras in Europe, but here in Tucson, the cameras take a picture of the driver, too. There's certainly no wiggle room there.
My husband has a heavy foot. So far we have paid for it twice in France and once in Switzerland.
The rental agency charges for the French ones hit my credit card bill within a month, and the French citations themselves came to our house, in writing and addressed correctly, within 4 months. I was able to pay for them online with my credit card.
The Swiss one took almost 2 years (we were there in late June, 2011 and got the citation in late March, 2013). From the addressing of the envelope, I could see why. Even with the information from the rental agency (in Germany) they just couldn't seem to adjust the address to the US style. I never noticed a charge on my credit card from the rental agency for providing our information to the Swiss authorities, but that could have happened early on mixed in with other charges from that trip. I had to pay the fine with an electronic funds transfer which cost more than the cost of the fine itself.
When we rent a car in Europe, we just assume we're going to do something wrong and eventually have to pay for it. So far, that's only happened in 2 out of the 8 countries in which we have driven.
How about this circumstance?
Shortly after our trip to Italy in 2008 I received two charges on my credit card for about €40 from the car rental company. The paperwork from the rental company followed not long after explaining the charges were for providing our information to the traffic authorities in or around Florence. We never did receive the actual fines. Same thing happened after our trip to Germany in 2012. A similar charge from the rental company for providing our information to the traffic authorities outside Berlin. Never received the actual fine.
Assuming I actually did contravene some statute but never received the fines is there an expectation that I should contact the respective authorities?
Peter, if you do not live in Italy the police must send a registered letter within one year from the moment the rental agency provide your information. I think that in your case they could not send the letter in time and they gave up.
@Peter - The rental agency is obligated to provide your contact information if requested by the authorities. And they charge you an administrative fee for doing so (as agreed to in your rental agreement). Whether or not the authorities actually send a citation is their choice. Certainly if it was never sent or isn't past due, you aren't doing anything wrong. But there are people that get tickets and don't want to pay because either they feel they didn't do anything wrong (sometimes out of ignorance of traffic rules or despite the camera evidence) or just don't feel "obligated" to pay for their errors.
I was hit for a $45 bill from Hertz--administration charges for providing rental info to the police.
Almost a year later, a certified letter was received from the City of Venice. They documented my rental car was on the causeway going over to Venice and it was caught on a camera radar @ 1.8 mph over the speed limit.
Needless to say, many places in Italy are legendary speed traps.
I had to pay a bill paying service online to pay the City of Venice $184 in Euros directly to their checking account.
We still had a great day visiting Venice.
What is a "grace" amount on a speedometer"? The car's speedometer is supposed to display the exact speed, not an approximation. The radar also captures an exact speed, not a "grace" amount. Enforcement will usually choose not to enforce for less than 5 mph over the speed limit, allowing for calibration error in the speedometer. Usually, as the enforcing officer may take other factors. The factor here may have been that the car was a rental. into consideration.
Also, regarding an earlier comment about fighting a violation caught by traffic camera, in Pennsylvania a defense is to be able to establish that you, the ticketed vehicle owner, were not operating the car, and you also may not be compelled to identify the operator in such case. That the traffic cam cannot prove that you were the driver is not sufficient in this case, it is on the owner to establish it (although the photo could in fact clearly establish the owner).
The "grace" is 3.1 mph if the speed limit is below 62 mph, the 5% if it is over.
So, the fine that David took in Venice implies an infringement of minimum 3.1 + 1.8 mph.
If he had exceeded the limit of only 1.8 mph the speed trap would not have taken the pic. They are set this way by law.
Hope it helps (and sorry if my English is a bit rusty).
David, for what it's worth, I think it's a real shame that a touristic cities like Venice, Florence and Rome can't set up a simple paypal account to get money from tourists who live abroad.
JG, it seems unlikely that Ruth will be back to answer your questions. Since she posted the question a couple of weeks back she hasn't returned to enter into any discussion or post to any other threads..
@Larry - It is my understanding that European cars have their speedometers set to show a slightly higher speed than you are actually traveling. Perhaps it is an urban myth, but I have heard it from several sources. So it might register as 30 kph but you are actually only traveling 27 kph. That is the grace referred to with the speedometer.
@JG - Ruth wasn't contesting the ticket per se, she just wanted to know why she might have gotten one and to be sure it wasn't some sort of scam. That was answered early in the thread. Other posters have asked about their own tickets or discussed their own experiences, so now it has gotten pretty garbled.
European Traffic Violation Trivia: The all-time record for fines, reported on this site, is to the best of my recollection, 1000 + euros for multiple violations of the Florence ZTL's. This was racked up by a Canadian traveler who shall remain unnamed (I don't remember the name and wouldn't use it if I did).
Are you (you know who you are) still out there? And did you decide to pay the fines?
It will just be our little secret, but Inquiring Minds want to know.
I received two ZTL infraction notices from Florence in the mail in 2009. They did not arrive certified mail, so I tossed them aside and have heard nothing since from the Florence authorities.
I did not circumvent any laws and can offer no advice about avoiding these fines, pertinent to this forum's rules on the subject.
Having received a couple in 2009 has little bearing on what is happening in 2014. That is ancient history in the world of computers and the web. On many of the travel sites, including this one, there are reports that these fines are being pursued by US base collection agencies. No one has reported on the final out come. I doubt if a collection agency could take this to a court and obtain a judgement. But, the big hammer, is that the collection agency could just report it as a collection action on your credit report and that could cause all kinds of problems. So no one has an answer for what the ultimate outcome might be. Collecting fine is still a work in progress for the Italians.
The setting of car speedometers to show a higher than actual speed is not a myth. Before I ever heard of it, I noticed, while driving in Sicily, that those electronic road signs that show your speed consistently indicated a slower speed than the car speedometer showed.
"Innocent until proven guilty" is not a universal principle U.S. law shares many features with English common law; however, many European countries do not In the dim recesses of my memory I seem to recall that many of those countries operate under codes based on Napoleonic principles. Whatever the basis, it is up to the accused to proven himself innocent once charged. Nobody likes to pay traffic fines; but if you travel in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws, even if they're different from yours.