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Traffic violation notice 6 months after trip

Today I received a bill from Hertz, for $42 Eu. because they provided my identity details to Italian authorities in connection with traffic violation. AutoEurope says I should get notice of the violation from the police within another 6 months or so. I have no knowledge of any violation. We did our best to follow the rules: reading signs, keeping up with traffic on highways, etc. We certainly never received a parking ticket, and were never stopped. AutoEurope says we may have been caught on a traffic cam, but we just have to wait until we hear about the charge.

Is this typical? The charge from Hertz seems outrageous, although AutoEurope says it's mentioned in the small print of the rental agreement. How much could this traffic ticket be for? Is this something we need to think about every time we rent a car in Europe? Is it just in Italy? I've rented cars in France and the Netherlands, with no problems.

Posted by
15588 posts

Welcome home from Italy. Lots of people get these souvenirs from there Italian vacations. The only way I know to avoid them is not rent a car. It has become a new form of tourist tax. Somewhere along the way, you triggered a robocam. You either ventured into a ZTL, or were exceeding the speed limit by a couple kph.

Posted by
6068 posts

Probably one of two things.

  1. you were caught on a highway camera speeding, just because you were 'keeping up with the traffic' doesn't mean everyone around you wasn't also speeding and maybe all of them got tickets too.

  2. more likely you drove the car into one of the dreaded ZTL's in a town, or if in Florence maybe you drove in a bus lane inadvertently as one recent poster did and got a ticket.

Only way to know for sure is when you get the ticket. As for how much it's likely to cost, that also depends on what the traffic violation was.

Posted by
6068 posts

ZTL's are zones in many villages/towns/cities where driving is limited to those who have permission to drive there, such as taxis or residents of the neighborhood. Your vehicle has to be registered in order to drive in them without getting a ticket. They are marked but often go unnoticed when you are looking for a hotel or parking place, etc.

Posted by
15588 posts

ZTL. Italian acronym for forbidden zone in the central historic area of most Italian cities. Zona Traffico Limitado, or something like that. You can't drive there unless you have a permit displayed on your windshield. The robocam takes your picture as you enter the zone, compares you license plate with the list of permits, and sends tickets automatically if there is no match. Isn't technology marvelous? No human intervention required. Some people get several in a day as they move about the city.

Posted by
11613 posts

ZTL = Zona Traffico Limitato. Your rental company sends you a notice well before you will receive the ticket. Pay it when you get it, fines accrue.

Posted by
20688 posts

It is common. Punch it in the search engine here and you will have a hundred responses. More and more of Europe is going to the traffic camera. Perhaps more so in Italy. And Italy used a lot of traffic limited zones or bus only lanes. This gets nastier if you have more than one violation because Hertz is going to charge $42 for each one. Doing your best, doesn't count. By the time the traffic ticket gets to you the fine will have drifted well pass the 100 euro mark.

Absolutely it is something to think about when renting. When we were in Italy last year we noticed that every little town and village that we entered had a camera at the point that the speed zone changed when entering the town. Italy also does a rolling average on the express ways. They take your picture and ten kilometers or so later they take your picture again. If your average over that distance exceeds the limit you get another ticket. But it is fair (?) because they do it to everyone and not just American tourists.

Posted by
5541 posts

When you initialed all those rental agreement "boxes" without reading the contract, you agreed to pay an administrative charge for traffic violations during the rental period. The contract likely specified the 42€. (Or did they bill you in USD?)

Posted by
16782 posts

I recently got one of these souvenirs from my fall driving in Italy and it stated the city where the violation occurred, which was Montalcino. I know that I did drive into the Zona Traffico Limitato in Montalcino (some confusion as to which way the sign was pointing), so I was expecting that one, even though I did not see a camera. Actual ticket is still to come. In general, I felt that the ZTLs were well signed around Tuscany and Umbria, so hoping for no more citations.

Posted by
1589 posts

IMO, you got off pretty cheap! I got one last year for 4 times your amount. The cameras are relentless.

Posted by
6068 posts

@Bob, the OP doesn't know yet how much the ticket will cost. The 42€ was just the rental company fee for giving the information to the local authorities. The ticket will probably be closer to 100-150€

Posted by
2881 posts

It's not just Italy. I know there are cameras on French autoroutes that monitor speed; and the UK has cameras all over. You'd get hit with a penalty if you drove into the center of London. and they're probably monitoring speed, as well. The charge levied on you by Hertz is pretty standard for their service to the police. Who knows how that amount relates to their the cost. It may seem outrageous, but you really have no way to dispute it.

Posted by
31036 posts

lgalen,

The others have provided lots of good information including the ZTL areas, but you won't know for certain what the violation was until you receive the actual ticket. It could have been......

  • Violating one or more ZTL areas as mentioned earlier. In some cases these are enforced by automated cameras (especially Florence which is almost saturated with them), and in smaller towns perhaps by a "cop on the beat".
  • Speed Cameras - these can either be the typical "photo radar" type that captures an instantaneous speed, or the Traffic Tutor system on motorways which captures violators both for speed when they pass through one of the cameras, as well as average speed between two points.
  • Parking infractions or driving in Bus lanes, as mentioned in another post here.

The actual ticket will probably be sent by European Municipality Outsourcing, and by the time you receive it you won't be able to contest it. It's possible there could be one or more other tickets working their way through the bureaucracy, which you may receive in the near future (although hopefully not).

Posted by
10302 posts

Yet one more reason for not driving in places in Italy where a train will get you to your destination.
And if you choose to drive in Italy, try to avoid cities.

Posted by
11978 posts

The ZTL in Florence is very well marked. At each 'entrance' there is the white and red road sign, a very conspicuous camera apparatus, and when active during the day, there is a bright red light on (like a street light) which turns green at night when the ZTL is inactive.

If you got a ZTL camera ticket in Florence, I don't know what to tell you. I don't think the City can do more than that to warn tourists, short of placing at each entrance a hooded ISIS soldier dressed in black and wielding a scimitar (that will scare the s---t out of every American).

Posted by
4152 posts

Also, don't be surprised if you get more fees. You will be charged the administrative fee for every violation. Hopefully it will just be the one but it could be more. Most people don't realize this but every time you're information is reported it's another fee. You agreed to this when you signed the contract.

Yes, this is something you should consider every time you drive in a foreign country. I know Italy has started sending collection agencies for those who try not to pay. Just wait for the tickets and send the payment.

Donna

Posted by
15588 posts

@ Quirite, I obviously don't speak Italian. Maybe its Esperanto.
As far being a new tourist tax, yes, the cameras catch any violator. Its just that locals will be very aware of the situation, have already got their permits. The speed trap cameras are even noted on Via Michelin routings. Italians will be up on them and can avoid them, or even fight them in court since they get the tickets in a timely fashion. But the clueless tourist is pretty helpless unless forewarned, and by the time it hits his mailbox a year later, the fine has quadrupled and has no recourse.
I am also curious if the 42 euro Auto Rental Agency Tattle Tale Fee is split with the authorities. Seems like they would love to get their hands on some of that money. Why let the rental agency collect all the goodies.

Posted by
498 posts

Igalen - I just posted in this forum recently about car rental in italy... these stories such as you are sharing are definitely swaying me toward NOT renting a car and taking trains instead.

I am an excellent and safe driver, but have a history of renting cars and having "stuff" happen -- someone clips the rear view window while it's parked, got backed into by a sports car, etc etc.

I'd rather enjoy my vacation and not constantly be worried about electronic surveillance and unplanned costs.

Posted by
4152 posts

The cameras don't just catch tourists. They catch anyone so how can you say they're not fair. Also, if you're unaware of the laws regarding driving in a foreign country why on earth would you get behind the wheel? Why would you assume that you can drive the same way in Italy that you do back home? It makes no sense. To use the "I didn't know" excuse just means you didn't do your homework.

As far as the fines, the Italian law system gives them a year to serve you with the ticket from the time they identify you. The fines don't start increasing the minute you break the law. They give you a reasonable amount of time to pay the fine. It's those who put off paying the fine that incur the penalties.

As for the fee from the rental agency, it's in the terms and conditions and all agencies charge a different amount. It's not a scam, it's a legitimate fine for the company needing to hire someone to do the research on all the traffic fines they receive every day from renters who don't know the laws of the countries they're driving in. Here is what the Hertz website says as far as fines and fees are involved:

It is the customer’s responsibility to pay any fines, road tolls, congestion charges and other similar charges incurred due to local road restrictions during the rental in Italy. Fines and charges are sent to Hertz, even after a long time, especially in case of electronic or remote report (i.e. speed and Limited Traffic Zone cameras or motorway tolls). Hertz will provide customer data to relevant local authorities and will recover the costs through a reasonable administration fee of EUR 42.70 (including tax) per parking or traffic fine.
Disabled permit holders are kindly requested to check with local authorities of the town they travel through the validity of their permits, to complete the necessary procedures of the local association and to communicate the license plate of the rental vehicle.

Bottom line, if you don't want to be fined either follow the rules of the road or don't rent a car. I've rented a car several times now and have yet to be "scammed" in any way. I know the rules and I follow them.

donna

Posted by
498 posts

Even when following the road rules accurately, we all know that when authorities want to run "speed traps" or such, then you can be ticketed even for a brief speed increase, as other posters above have said is the case.
I can rent a car in the USA and be sure that my good driving is enough to keep me out of trouble with the law. The OP said he was aware of not breaking any laws, let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by
76 posts

To answer several people: We did take trains, and only rented a car after we left Florence, to visit towns in Tuscany. I'll pay the fine when I get it. I'm curious as to what we did, and just hope it isn't too expensive! I doubt I'll rent a car in Italy again, though.

Posted by
8293 posts

I totally agree with Donna. The international sign for "Do Not Enter" is a round sign, white background with a red bar in the centre running from left to right. Very common where I live and surely understandable to almost anyone. How anyone can pass that sign and enter a ZTL area is a mystery, and considering it a trap for tourists is laughable.

Posted by
11613 posts

JTraveler, the OP says they did their best and were not aware of committing any violations, not that they were sure they had not violated any laws. The fact that the OP did not know what ZTL is says that they were unaware of some of the driving laws in Italy - not an adequate defense, nor was the OP trying to claim it as one, from subsequent posts on this thread.

It may sound like tough love to say it's the renter's responsibility to learn laws in foreign countries, but it's the best way to avoid these expensive mistakes.

Posted by
4507 posts

I think Donna was more responding to Sam who was claiming that the ZTLs are a tourist scam or a way to get more fines out of unsuspecting tourists. My own answer to that charge is that FAR more tourists benefit from ZTLs by being able to walk more freely around city centers, which is actually one of the purposes of ZTLs.

And the rental agencies use the "administrative fees" as profit centers for themselves. They certainly aren't going to share that with the authorities as part of some scheme to rid tourists of their money.

Posted by
15588 posts

I'll stand on my opinion. Its a tourist tax. Italians know how to avoid them. So they fall largely on tourists. And they are lucrative.

Posted by
8293 posts

If they are lucrative, Sam, it is because many tourists renting cars do not take the time to know the rules and the road signs, and think as tourists they will be forgiven their transgressions. Shock and horror when they discover driving in Europe is not the same as back home.

Posted by
6068 posts

I fall in line behind Norma, ignorance is no excuse.

" Italians know how to avoid them. So they fall largely on tourists."

And so would the tourists if they researched and learned the rules before renting a car - anywhere.

As for calling it a 'tourist tax', is that true also of the cameras and speed traps in the US? Are they all aimed to catch foreign tourists?

Posted by
76 posts

Thanks for all the feedback. I think I get it now. One thought, for car rental agencies: it would be helpful if they mentioned this issue to their customers who are clearly tourists. It sounds like mine is not an isolated case, and if we had been made aware of the enforcement issue, we would have been much more careful than we were--and we WERE careful. Or at least we wouldn't have been so surprised to get this ticket, so long after our trip.

Posted by
498 posts

Whether you think it's a scam, a trap, a grey area, or a driver's understandable error, I think I believe someone when they say they were extremely careful, and unaware of breaking laws, and I dislike a system where you can be ticketed and fined with no recourse to respond or contest. Also, even if some of you are right that it's a fair system and rigorously by-the-book, Sam isn't necessarily wrong in suggesting the law can be applied and enforced in a way that is predatory to tourists. We have many laws in the US that are enforced in a way that benefits one party at another's expense.

Posted by
4152 posts

jtraveler, yes I was responding to Sam but to answer your points, I don't believe the police are out with "speed traps", unless the police are out with a radar gun the speed zones are pretty well set. They are monitored either by cameras or with those timing devices that check the time you go into a zone and when you come out. These are there all the time. They are not random and they don't move around from day to day. Just because the OP was unaware of the law isn't an excuse (and I know the OP isn't claiming it as an excuse and was only asking what she might have done to receive the ticket/s) and people shouldn't try to make the fact that the law was broken any less significant than it is. Driving a car comes with responsibilities. If you aren't going to take the time to read and understand the laws of the country you're visiting and plan to drive in then you shouldn't rent a car.

As for the fines being a "tourist tax", that's not true either. There are plenty of Italians who visit Rome (and other cities) and drive into zones they aren't entitled to. There are plenty of Italians who speed and get caught. The difference is that we don't hear them complaining on this forum. We only hear from "tourists" who get caught and think it's unfair. There are thousands of tourists everyday who breaks the laws in Italy. Is Italy supposed to forgive them all just because they're tourists and were too busy to find out what they could and couldn't do with the car they rented? Yes, these cities make a lot of money on these fines but that should tell you just exactly how bad the situation is.

No one said they didn't believe the OP when she stated that she was careful and wasn't aware of breaking any laws. The fact that she didn't know what a ZTL is means she could've driven into one (or many) without realizing what it was and that she shouldn't drive into it. As for recourse, she has some. Once the ticket comes it will have a time and date of infraction. If she can prove the car was not in her possession at that time she can get out of the ticket. If she was in possession at the time she is at fault and should pay the fine.

Igalen, the reason the rental companies don't explain the laws to you are many fold. 1) it would take too long to explain every law which you may encounter when renting a car. 2) They assume that you know what the laws are or why else would you be renting a car 3) they assume that you know the laws and will follow them. 4) It would takes hours for anyone to get up to the counter if the agents had to explain all of this to every customer. The laws are out there for people to find and read.

I'm sorry that this happened to you and I do believe that were careful with the laws you knew about. It's a shame you didn't come here before your trip to ask about driving in Italy and what might be some of the things to look out for. Perhaps you'll try it again with this new found knowledge.

Donna

Posted by
31036 posts

Interesting debate......

I'm not sure I'd characterize ZTL's and speed traps as a "tourist tax". Both the cameras and manned speed traps are indiscriminate regarding violators. Whether they're Italian, American, Canadian, Swiss, British or whatever, those violating the law will be ticketed. The cameras don't know the nationality of the driver when the photo is snapped, and the police only learn that when the violator is pulled-over, after the violation has occurred. The locals will be more aware of the laws and able to avoid them, but I'm sure they get their fair share of tickets also.

"Italians know how to avoid them. So they fall largely on tourists."

One would think that's the case but perhaps not always. To use an analogy from the trains and the need for reservations on the fast trains. On one of my trips I observed an Italian resident being fined for not having valid reservations. The passenger got into a fierce argument with the ticket agent, which probably wasn't a good idea. I wasn't able to understand the dialogue, but they went at it "tooth & nail" for about 10 minutes. Of course there was no doubt about the outcome, and the passenger had a large yellow ticket to show for his argumentative nature. I've also seen numerous fellow tourists fined for not validating tickets on the Regionale trains. Bottom line - it's a good idea to do some homework on the rules, regardless of whether using a car rental or public transit.

Posted by
11978 posts

Ok This is what I have to say. This is probably the opinion of all Italians, especially the ones who still live there (certainly my old friends and family in Florence).

On the ZTL of Florence (some history):

The first ZTL goes back to 1978, when it replaced the old ZONA BLU (blue zone) which was introduced in Florence in 1971, but it was very small and it included only the quadrilateral section corresponding approximately to the Roman walls area defined by the orange perimeter in the picture below plus a few more streets:
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mura_di_Firenze#/media/File:Mura_romane.jpg
In 1988 the ZTL area as we know it today was created, as it was extended to the outer circle of walls. Some areas within the outer walls were excluded, which were included only later.

The entire project was to favor tourism. Even the last restrictions of 2011, when entire streets were closed, not only to cars, but to even public buses (Oltrarno, via Tornabuoni, etc.) had the purpose to pedestrianize totally those areas for the benefit of tourists (and merchants catering to them).

All these restrictions represent severe limitations to the life of Florentines (WHO HATE THE ZTL), and actually it was one of the factors why I moved to the US. I could not take all that inconvenience anymore, such as the inability to drive anywhere (especially because the ZTL created a lot of traffic outside of it). Whenever I needed to go downtown, I had to do it on my vespa or motorbike, often under the elements, simply because I was not eligible for a permit (my house was outside the city center). If I went by bus it would take longer to do anything and if I had to take some heavy luggage it wasn't practical at all and I would rather put it on the rack of my vespa (including a rented big electric typewriter once and a piece of furniture). This is what locals in Florence (and other cities too) have to do to get around in order to please tourists:
http://media.motoblog.it/b/bmw/bmw-full-optionals/bmw_tettuccio_1.jpg

It is also not true that fines are for tourists only. Between 1977 (my first motorcycle) and 1988 (when I moved to the US) I must have collected at least 20 violations for ZTL or bus lane incursions. There were no cameras then, so the police had to catch me in the act. Sometimes they would take my license plate number, other times they chased me (sometimes I got away when I was on the motorbike, but never tried to escape with the car). With the cameras it's even worse. Yes Florentines know where cameras are in Florence, but they get also caught by cameras in other cities. Speed cameras are everywhere. They even caught my father in his old age, when he drove so slow that he would create traffic jams.

Since 2003 Italians get 20 points with the drivers' license. When the get a violation 1 to 10 points are deducted (depending on the violation). After you are left with 0 points, the DL is suspended for a period from 2 weeks to months. Some of my friends have had their license suspended since 2003 and nobody I know in Florence has 20 points intact for more than a few months (if you don't get tickets for 2 years you go back to 20 points).

Posted by
5541 posts

Great point Roberto! The auto free zones are for pedestrians, be they tourist or locals, to enjoy without having to dodge motor vehicles. Some European vehicle free zones even exclude riding a bike all in favor of pedestrian traffic. It's nice to be able to stroll these city centers only having to dodge umbrellas and walkers with eyes glued to texting devices.

Posted by
10302 posts

I've enjoyed this discussion, especially the last few posts.
The first time I went to Florence (a while back), I was blind-sided by the pedestrian zone and parking situations.
At that time, I didn't notice anyZTL's in the historic center just south of the Duomo, or at least they didn't send you a fine for being in them. I was sleeping in a hotel in the historic center and also had a rental car (silly me). The police actually let me drive to the hotel, at that time, but I remember turning a corner and seeing a hundred tourists on the street in front of me, all coming at me. It was intimidating. But I had already checked with the police, showed them my reservation at the hotel, and they said: okay, you can proceed past our checkpoint and go to the hotel, just don't run over any pedestrians, and no, we don't have any recommendations where to park after that. But you won't be arrested for driving to your hotel.
Then they got the ZTL's with the cameras and fines.

What I learned is the advice I've always given to newbies (to Florence) who post here and want to have a rental car in Florence:
You can sleep in the Florence historic center, or have a rental car--but you don't want to try to do both on the same trip.
And you don't need a car in Florence. It's different from here. Roberto explains why (above).

Posted by
6068 posts

This kind of started out as an "oh no, not another traffic ticket post", but it has turned into a really interesting and helpful discussion. I always like when Roberto chimes in to 'tell it like it is'.

Posted by
463 posts

After Roberto, another couple of points from an Italian.
1. Yes, we hate the ZTL as well. We have to plan all out whole lives around ZTL times. You do not imagine how many times I had to get out of bed at dawn as I had to arrange a delivery in the center of Florence before the curfew (ZTL closes at 8.30am but goods should be delivered by 9am). But were the ZTL dropped, the whole center would turn into a traffic gridlock. It is already now (too many people authorized).
2. Residents sometimes get the idea that foreign people think that in Italy everything is allowed. We see, say, Swiss people doing in Italy things they would not even think to do in their own country.

Posted by
792 posts

I got one of those "souvenirs" from France last year for speeding 3 kph over the limit. Guilty as charged. In the USA most cops let you slide for anything less than 10 mph over the limit. Europe apparently thinks differently. I paid the fine.

Posted by
8889 posts

The cultural difference between Europe and the USA is in the title of this article: "Traffic violation". In most European countries these are offences, i.e. treated as crimes. Foreign tourists get off lightly. For locals the biggest punishment is not the fine, it is points on your licence.
Enough points (enough speeding tickets) and they take away your licence. In Switzerland, if you are too far over the speed limit, or drunken driving, they take away your licence on the spot. Unless somebody else in the vehicle has a licence (and insurance), then it is a tow truck and walk. They can't take away licences from foreign tourists, but they can ban them from driving in Switzerland.

P.S., Yes we have the equivalent of ZTL's in Switzerland. I was walking through one yesterday. A car with German plates drove past the sign, realised something was wrong (people walking in the middle of the road) turned round and went back. Luckily no cameras.

Posted by
3828 posts

We were lucky we didn't get a ticket as I am fairly sure we drove up a bus lane in Paris, and because of a GPS glitch, we went to the spot the person before us was and it was a 'restricted' traffic area - or so the GPS warned us (maybe that guy got the ticket?!). This was 2012, so I think we've passed the deadline for a ticket.

While on the highway I was constantly on hubby about watching the speed limit - here in my province, you can happily go 10 kmh over without fear of a speeding ticket - and we regularly get passed by people going 20 kmh over - just aren't that many cops patrolling the highways and no speed cameras. Boy - most people on our highways would be in for a rude awakening if we ever went to the European model of ticket issuing over here!

Posted by
2762 posts

When we were in Florence we saw some people in a car jump out and flag down a taxi to lead them to their hotel. We heard the conversation. The taxi agreed to do it, and they followed. I'll bet they ended up with a ZTL ticket, unless they arranged something in advance with their hotel.