UH-OH! TICKETED IN AREZZO

Hi! Got an unexpected souvenir in the mail yesterday even though we visited Italy in March / April. I was evidently photographed in my rental car while making a quickie sidetrip to Arezzo after day-tripping to Cortona. I seem to remember reading about the historic downtown area being off-limits. Anyway, the ticket was charged to my credit card on file with Autoeurope. Would appreciate any info on this scam, as there obviously is no way to contest it...it's already appeared on my credit card. I guess I'll just chalk it up as one more Italian memory (albeit a few months late!).

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Lotsa discussion about this in recent months. Many Italian cities have traffic limited zones, and catch violators by camera. They send the ticket to the registered owner (the car rental firm), which then charged you, as per your rental agreement. It's like being caught by a red light camera in the U.S. Unfortunately, not a lot of North American drivers research this, and the rental companies don't help a lot :( For potential future drivers in Italy, do a google search under "zona traffico limitato" and you'l find lots of info.

Posted by Larry
Elk Grove, CA, USA
6699 posts

It's not a scam. Many cities in Italy have these special zones. You actually drove into a posted Zona Traffico Limitato that has cameras that snap pictures of your rear license plate. By law, you can enter these zones if you have to get to your hotel or car rental agency but they have to immediately notify the police department with your license plate number. You really have no defense if your were just day-tripping around and entered a zone that you should not have entered without proper registration.

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Well, the more veteran travelers may not consider it a scam, but notification four months later, long after departing the country, no opportunity to contest it (although I'm obviously "guilty as charged"), automatically deducted from my credit card....hmmm. Walks and quacks like a scam to me. Hope they use my euros to hang a flower box in Arezzo in my memory :)

Posted by Beatrix
Calgary
1974 posts

Roy,

if you had rented a car in Canada, drove by a multi-nova camera in excess speed, a ticket would have been sent a few weeks later to the rental car company. The Company would have debited your cc and you've received notice - as well weeks/months after you've already left the country with little opportunity to contest. No scam involved in that. So why should the same procedure also involving a camera recording a traffic violation in Italy be a scam? Just because of the time delay? You always get that kind of delay with camera controlled traffic violations.

Posted by Liz
Seattle, WA
1311 posts

And Italy!

I doubt you'd get the ticket any sooner even if the camera printed it out right then and there! ;-)

It's unfortunate, but it's also almost certainly legit. Another reason I prefer public transportation in Europe.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Roy, are you entirely certain that AutoEurope paid your fine? I'm more inclined to believe that what really happened is that AutoEurope (or more precisely, the auto rental company you actually used for which AutoEurope is a broker) charged you for the fee associated with providing the police information about the driver of the vehicle at the time the offense occurred. This has been the experience of the vast majority of people who have written about this topic. I don't believe the auto rental companies have the right to pay for your fine, though they can certainly charge you a fee for the cost of providing info to the police. Did you receive actual paperwork from AutoEurope identifying that they're paying the fine for you and a breakdown of the cost?

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Thank you, Neil...I finally found someone a little bit sympathetic to this crazed, law-breaking rental car driver! :)

I actually had the wrong rental car company...it was Europcar. Now, the (potentially) bad news. You are right...the paperwork from Europcar says "Administrative fees for notification of traffic violations." 40 euros for the notification, plus 8 more euros for VAT. Yikes...maybe Europcar will be the ones hanging a flower box in my memory...good work if you can get it!

What now? Am I going to get hit with additional fines? Anybody else care to educate me on what I can expect? (Seriously, thanks to all for your responses.)

Posted by Otter
Santa Clara, CA
252 posts

Rick says, travel like a temporary local. What would an Italian local do in this situation? Try any and every which way to get out of paying, even if guilty!!

I would try to dispute it through the credit card company. It's difficult to get overseas charges reversed, but if you're in good standing with the cc company, they may eat it to keep you as a customer. Worse thing that happens is that you get a couple months reprieve before you eventually have to pay it.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Roy....you'll probably get a notification from a central Italian collection agency that seems to deal with many municipalities in Italy, telling you of the infraction and listing the fine. It'll probably be another 6-8 months before you get that (if not longer!) Then the decision's up to you.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2371 posts

As you have figured out, your 48 Euro is not the fine, just a fee charged by the rental car agency to provide info to the people who will fine you. That fine will be maybe 100-200 Euro. It would be rare that the fine would be charged to your credit card, but depending on your rental contract, it is an eventual possibility. You can certainly contest, but to little avail(face it, they hold all the cards), and they will double or triple the fine through the process. There is much debate whether they actually have much recourse (they can't take your license or jail you in the US) or even if on a return trip you will encounter problems. There are actually some time limits in place, but generally these are based on actions only they can verify, and distance, language, and local laws aree against you. Scam, no, and it could just as easily been in the UK, Switzerland, or as mentioned Canada or in the US.

Posted by Carole
Shaw Island, Washington, USA
71 posts

Wow - what a shock that must have been! You did not even know that you had broken the law?

I read the three pages in RS book about driving. Is there another good source with printer friendly info we could print out and read on the plane? I found some on a website, but my hubby steers clear of computers and he will do most of the driving.

Posted by Peter
Manchester
461 posts

To avoid these sorts of incidents Americans really need to familiarise themselves with European road signage.

Unlike the US where signs are generally just black English text on an orange background (easy for native English speakers but next to useless for foreigners) most European signs are symbolic.

In the instance of the ZTL example provided in the previous post, the empty white circle bordered in red is a standard sign meaning no vehicles are allowed. I don't speak Italian but I guess that the text lists exemptions allowing resident's vehicles. If you understand basic European signs, even though you didn't understand the precise details, you could know that you were taking a risk entering a vehicle free zone without knowing if you had a valid exemption.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

And the Slow Travel website given by Leslieclick here has more info, go to it and scroll down a until you see the above sign. Here's what the website says this sign means:"It is good to know how to read the sign. For instance, this sign indicates that it is a restricted area between 7:30am and 7:30pm (19:30) from Monday to Saturday. The crossed hammers on the sign indicate these restrictions do not apply on Sunday and holidays. If in doubt as to what the sign says, always err on the side of caution. It is permissible to drive to a hotel within the restricted areas or to a parking garage, but, it is imperative that the hotel or garage call your license plate number into the police. This will give you safe passage. Do not assume that this call will be made, ask them to make the call and then check later that it was made. To be safe, keep your hotel or garage receipt in the event that you do get a ticket, then you can challenge it."It's the navigator's job to spot these signs: if you've elected unsuspecting "hubby" to fulfill his manly duties by driving in Florence (the unsuspecting brute has no idea what he's about to face), he's going to be too busy focusing on not running over vespas to look for traffic signs. So if you the navigator (you wimp!) don't see the sign, you should pay the fine.

Posted by carl
dallas, tx, usa
1358 posts

If we are cited in this country we pay; why not over there?

Ignorance of the law is NO excuse. I have heard that all my life. I guess it applies to countries we travel in also.

I was charged for a traffic violation in Oslo in a similar manner. I was guilty...thats all that matters.

Whether we like it or not, we pay and count it is another expense of travel.

If we are cited in this country we pay; why not over there?

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

Last year when the big fines first started getting mailed out to US drivers, we had some people on this site incensed about the very idea of it--but by now most people here just want to comply with the law but they need to know what the regulations are and how to spot these signs, so they can comply with Italian law--and they can educate themselves by looking at the above photo and going to the website link given by Leslie and again by me.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2371 posts

While Arezzo and Florence are mentioned, many Italian cities have the same restricted zone system like Rome, Pisa, Siena, and many more. Some are entire central areas like Arezzo, some are done by sections, like Florence, and some are street by street like Rome. As Kent mentioned, several months ago it was both outrage and a flat out pronunciation of scamming, that has toned down. At that time what amazed me was that at it's heart, this is a very practical way to limit traffic in a historic area only ruined by a glut of traffic...something positive for all of us travelers seeking a bit of quaint Italy...but nearly all that was voiced was negative. Nearly all of these cities are no place for cars, especially when driven by the likes of someone like me! Park the rental in the first big lot outside of town and hoof it or use public transport to your destination.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Roy, I'll provide you with an answer to your specific question about what you can expect. I expect you will receive a curious letter entitled oddly enough, "Notification of Payment Before the Notification." The gist of the letter can be summed up thusly: "The police say you should be cited for a traffic offense. If you pay us now, for which we have provided a handy website and English speaking operators standing by the phones in case you have questions, the police will disremember the entire incident."

I received two such letters in February 2008 for travel in July 2007. I ignored the letters and have heard nothing since. I would be quite surprised if your credit card company would pay the fine, from what I've read they cannot do that. My personal theory is that there are enough people scared of authority that they pay the fine after receiving the first dunning letter from the outsourcing group. I have read of people who didn't pay similar fines and had no problem re-entering Italy later on. Certainly the Italian customs agents don't enter your name into a computer database and see what pops up...they can hardly be distracted from their cell phones or newspapers or whatnot in the first place. Now, IF you got your ticket in Arezzo and IF you get pulled over by an Arezzo cop on a return trip, maybe the local police track these things enough that there will be some unpleasantness (though I doubt it). I don't believe the auto rental companies keep a current database of international traffic citation scofflaws.

Of course, this does not pertain to Brits and others in the EU as I understand they have some sort of agreement that causes you to pay up or face problems in your own country.

Now, I empathize with those taking the moral high ground who state one should pay because it's the proper thing to do. However, I think the fine is onerous (nearly 100 euros) and does not fit the crime. If it was half that, I'd consider paying.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

"I think the fine is onerous (nearly 100 euros) and does not fit the crime." Neil.... do you take the same approach to Washington state laws?

Posted by Claire
bergamo
401 posts

Just to reply to Otter, most Italians (my husband included) suck it up and pay the fine, just like we would do if we were to get a traffic fine in the US.
As for the fine being excessive, people are always complaining on this site about lovely, picturesque Italian towns being ruined by too much traffic in the center. These traffic zones have been put in place exactly for that reason, to keep cars out of the center. I don't get it, people moaning one minute about too much traffic in Italian cities and then moaning when they get tickets for what?--driving around the center of Italian cities!

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Norm: I treat all fines the same way: what happens if I don't pay? It's difficult to get out of paying fines in the US, local or otherwise. Some people don't mind accumulating parking tickets and whatnot, I can't do that because I don't want something like that hanging over my head. But let's be honest here: The Italian police set up a camera, mail out these fines, and hope they get paid. This new system is all about "volume." I have heard that if you don't pay, they double or triple the fine. So...for that kind of money I want to see an actual ticket, from the police, mailed to me. Until that happens, I think they're just being hopeful.

Here's some more straight talk: if the Italian authorities were REALLY interested in less traffic as opposed to more revenue, they'd get the word out. They KNOW many tourists come to these towns, they KNOW most of them are unfamiliar with their signs, yet they seem happy to collect the money as opposed to being dismayed that they can't seem to stem the flow of cars. Rental car agencies stay mum about it because they get about 80 bones to hand over a sheet of paper to the police that takes them 30 seconds to print out. So climbing up on the high horse just doesn't cut it. Sorry 'bout that.

Now, I wouldn't intentionally drive in a ZTL. In my situation, I was trying to drive to the Florence train station parking garage, not knowing that there is a very narrow slot from the southeast one must drive to get there without passing through a ZTL. Of course, a year later there's all kinds of info about avoiding these zones, but the Italian authorities evidently stepped up this camera enforcement program very recently.

Now, if you told me that the RCMP issued you a ticket, and if you didn't pay it there would be no penalty and nothing would happen, you're undoubtedly a better person than me. Of course, I wouldn't believe you. But there you have it.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Neil...if the only reason we obey our laws is because we fear the consequences, without understanding why the law is in place then admitting our mistakes, then our society is failing. And how should Italian officials "get the word out,"...write a letter to every American informing him/her that their traffic laws are different from the ones at home? All one has to do is a google search to find lots of details. Assuming traffic regulations are the same everywhere is an assumption you shouldn't have made. As Carl said, "ignorance of the law is no excuse;" it's the same anywhere. I got a ticket a few years ago for running a stop sign...the usual cover-the-brakes until I thought it was clear. A friend told me to contest it because there was a chance the officer would be too busy to attend, and it would be thrown out. But I understand why that law is there, and I was a fault, so I took my lumps and learned my lesson.

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Thanks, Neil...extremely well put. I'm taking a pretty good bashing for my unadulterated ignorance and brazen attempt to spoil the peace and quiet (right!) of Arezzo. (That's O.K., I asked for it.) In my opinion, anybody who can afford to travel to Italy these days with the euro at 1.55 to the dollar can probably afford to pay the fine (and admin costs). That's not the point...as Neil says, they're collecting largely from the tourists, not the locals, and their poor job of publicizing their traffic camera system is inconsistent with a sincere desire to reduce traffic.

Anyway, I hope this healthy discourse has helped at least a few upcoming visitors to keep their euros in their wallets and out of the Arezzo municipal coffers. Thanks to all for the spirited discussion!

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

Newbies: This (above discussion) is just one of the reasons why some of us old timers have finally learned to do what the Italians do:If a train goes there, take the train! This goes counter to the instincts of western North Americans, where there are no trains, but there it is....Exploring Tuscany hill towns is the only place in Italy where I'd rent a car.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Just wondering about this publicizing thing. Does Washington state or Virginia go out of their way to publicize traffic laws to visitors? Can you turn right on red lights in Washington state and Virginia? Well, I found out you can....by looking it up. Or Canada for that matter. Do you know if you can turn right on red lights in Quebec, or Ontario, for example? How would you find out....or would you assume it was the same as your laws? I doubt very much if there are figures to prove the contention that tourists are being nailed more frequently than Italian drivers. But, as Kent says....take the train...let someone else drive!

Posted by Claire
bergamo
401 posts

The police don't give out these kinds of tickets, these cameras are set up by the city and they are the ones who issue the tickets.
Yes, they are surely a useful source of revenue, just like the speed traps employed by state police in so many towns in the US, where if you are going 37 in a 35 they pull you over and give you a ticket. Do you think they post a sign telling you that there is a speed trap coming up? In Italy there are signs all over, telling you where the limited traffic zones are, where the autovelox machines (which give you tickets for speeding on the highway) are, where the areas are monitored by video camera are. You just have to know what the signs mean when you see them.
Keeping traffic out of the city center is a problem here in Italy, it clogs the streets and the air pollution is damaging to buildings and statues, Rome would be even more difficult to navigate if everyone could drive their car down Via del Corso. There is a reason for these traffic zones, they aren't there to screw you over, they are there to make the cities more liveable for the people who actually live there.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4758 posts

I think it is funny that there is an expectation that every traffic camera should be "advertised". That is the whole point, one should always drive in a correct manner, whether you think you are being "watched" or not. People here in Germany get their photos sent to them all the time. Sometimes it is just because their car is sitting over the white line at a traffic light! Is this a "scam" too? Do ya think Germans driving 110 miles an hour on US roads would call it a scam if they got a ticket, since they can drive that fast over here?
Yep, take a train, it is tons easier.

Posted by Connie
Everett, WA
827 posts

Well Roy- you have certainly received a lot of advice (or some might say chastisement) I'll give you my two cents. I am sorry to hear about your ticket. I think you received it innocently enough and it was not a fun way to end your trip. I think your idea to "chalk it up to one more Italian memory" is excellent, and I appreciate you opening yourself up to all this abuse so that others could learn from your mistake. We will be driving through Italy in October, and have learned from your mistake. Sorry you had to pay the tab for our education.

Posted by Tim
Meteghan, N.S., Canada
152 posts

Oh for heaven's sake Neil. "would not be allowed to exist in the United States..." News flash. There's a whole lot of stuff that is allowed to exist in the United States that would never be allowed in Italy, Canada and most of the developed world (like people walking around with concealed weapons). One of the enjoyable things about travel is having the opportunity to see and experience different cultures, values, and customs. The ZTL's are not a secret and people visiting Italy do not have a god given right to assume everything will be the same as it is at home.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

The challenge for me, which I assume is shared by many drivers from the US (at least in the Northwest) is that unimpeded ZTL-like restricted roads do not exist. Perhaps they have plenty of these types of restricted roads on the east coast and Canada or whatever but the usual model for a restricted road around here is an electronically operated gate. You pause for a moment, swipe your card, and continue forward. This absolutely prevents unauthorized traffic from entering, if the goal REALLY is to reduce traffic as opposed to collect revenue. I'm just saying.

I don't think it would be a terrific burden for rental car companies to have at their counters a brochure about ZTLs. I mean, in the US if we had a huge number of tourists coming back to the rental agencies complaining about a similar situation, the agencies would address the situation because that's the way customer service generally works here. Perhaps there are no complainers, though, seeing as how folks don't know they received these tickets until the Italian authorities see fit to direct the outsourcing company to send collection letters nine months after the offense. Naturally, after this time period nobody knows nothin' 'bout nothin'.

Now, my comments on this topic are limited to ZTLs. I don't speed because I don't want to worry about hidden cameras and hidden cops.

And though this is not my situation, many people caught in ZTLs were simply trying to get to their hotel. The hotels did not forewarn them about the ZTLs, and it's a huge process to contest the tickets which requires cooperation by the hotel which sometimes happens and sometimes not. It's a terrific mess, and something that would simply not be allowed to exist in US heavily-touristed areas. The Italians just sort of shrug. It is what it is.

Posted by Ron
Ron-in-Rome... now RPT in Atlanta!
1740 posts

Well as someone who lives here like Claire & Jo, I can assure you the locals DO NOT get these tickets. Mostly because they know where these zones are, understand the signage, and avoid the consequences. Most tourists DO NOT realize they even entered these zones until they get the ticket in the mail...

OK, so you're not in Kansas anymore. If you are going to drive in foreign countries - THEIR COUNTRY -then you have to LEARN and OBEY their laws. It really doesn't matter what works or doesn't work in the States... that's not where you're driving! And what does it matter? Their system works for them. It may not be as efficient or effective as where you're from, but it works for them. It's not the US, it's Italy - so making comparisons really is inappropriate!

The Italian point of view is, "Why are you violating OUR law - we do not seem to have a problem?" If you going to accept the responsibility of driving here, then you must accept knowing and understanding the law here... Failure to do so will lead to a more expensive form of education.

Often times we end up in the ZTL's because we just do not know where we're headed or the signage is confusing. No doubt for a newcomer it's tough. After driving here an extended time, these areas are known to me, the signs more recognizable, and far easier to avoid. It's tough to be "alert" to ZTL issues when you're looking for the street name on the side of a building, or it's dark, or it's late... but regardless you will get tagged if you violate these zones. Avoid driving in downtown areas of the cities and DO make sure to follow up with your hotel or rental car agency (I rent cars often and the drop-off's are sometimes INSIDE limited traffic zones!!!).

Good luck and, as Kent says - Perhaps a good time to take the train!

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Some folks seem confused about my point. I certainly understand things in Italy are different than in the US. Thirty years of international traveling has taught me this kind of stuff. I was merely pointing out the experience of many drivers new to Italy is that they have no reason to expect ZTLs because they've never seen them. You can huff and puff about how people need to familiarize themselves about local laws and ignorance is no excuse all you want, and I won't disagree. I haven't yet seen anyone put forth a reason why it's not a good idea to help travelers understand the ZTL laws. It would keep more traffic out of the ZTLs, yes? And that is the goal, is it not? Would anyone care to respond to this issue directly without resorting to more righteous indignation?

As Ron points out, it is primarily tourists who get caught in these zones without authorization, usually just trying to park or get to their hotel. The locals know not to go there. This is different than speeders, who know they are breaking the law but take a chance anyway. That is a TOTALLY different situation...I don't know of anybody complaining about a ZTL ticket who states, "I saw the sign and knew what it meant but figured what the heck, I'm only going a couple of blocks."

I am enjoying this discussion.

Posted by sally
vero beach, fl, US
42 posts

We are planning to return our rental car to Termini after visiting SOuthern Italy. How difficult is it to drive to Termini?

Posted by sally
vero beach, fl, US
42 posts

Connie, us too! What an invaluable tip! While he's watching for Vespas I'll be watching for signs! It will feel like a video game!

Posted by Tim
Meteghan, N.S., Canada
152 posts

Neil, I'm glad to see you simplifying your point. Certainly earlier posts referring to things that would not be tolerated in the good old USA suggest a different concept. As for the point you now focus on, its not really a question of needing to better explain the ZTL's. People know they exist, and just assume they will be able to navigate their way around cities, with heavy traffic, often narrow roads and signage in Italian, all the while trying to read a map or listen to a GPS. Folks get ticketed because they end up somewhere they're not allowed. There is no brochure in the world that will change that reality. If you've been to Italy you'll now that its not unusual to see 5-6 or more signs all posted at the same place, all explaining different rules of the road. Given all the time in the world most people can sort them out, but as they flash by, with cars right behind you impatiently pushing a driver forward, mistakes happen all the time. There are only 2 reasonable solutions. One, accept the risk and pay the fines if we get confused and end up where we don't belong, or 2) don't drive.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Well, Tim, regarding your contention that "people know they exist"....certainly many more do NOW. This doesn't help people who are receiving tickets now for travel nine months ago. The original poster Roy indicated he didn't know what he had done wrong. I think this is true for most violators.

I'm curious to know if there is a similar situation in the US, where the locals cannot drive but there are no physical restrictions, creating the opportunity for a massive automated ticketing scheme of which the victims are simply ignorant out-of-towners. I don't know of one myself, and it's highly likely that the unfairness of such a system would preclude it from being popular in this country. Now, before I get taken behind the woodshed again for that remark, note I am talking about the expectation of US drivers in Italy based on what they know. This passive-aggressive enforcement scheme of Italians is unfamiliar. Seeing no evidence to the contrary, I stand behind my view that this is more about revenue collection than traffic reduction.

I'm hoping that awareness to the issue in this forum and others helps future visitors avoid this unpleasantness.

Posted by Ron
Ron-in-Rome... now RPT in Atlanta!
1740 posts

Neil - I guess you've re-opened the woodshed with this statement:

"Seeing no evidence to the contrary, I stand behind my view that this is more about revenue collection than traffic reduction.

ZTL's are primarily in historic, narrow, sensitive, and important areas of town. They are usually "transition zones" as just after them are often pedestrian only zones! Traffic is limited in these areas to protect the environment, the people, and the history. They just don't nail these signs up everywhere!

There are plenty of examples in the US of restricted driving zones - near a nuclear plant, near a major government building, entering a military base, near a sports stadium, parking in front of an airport, near the White House... and on and on! If you do not speak or read English, OUR signs make no sense to a European... it's just what we know! A non-American could easily get confused by some of the US driving customs: Turning right on red and "Road Rage" for example.

Same thing over here! There is no grand conspiracy by the Italian government to raise revenue by creating ZTL areas. Sorry that just IS NOT the primary purpose of these zones.

I watched the opening scene of the movie "Hancock" with some friends here in Italy. The opening has an SUV driving through LA spraying bullets everywhere with 30+ police cars in pursuit. The Italians COULD NOT even fathom such an event happening and were laughing at this "fiction."

So again, this is their world, their customs, and their laws. Just as they have to adapt when they come to the States, we do too! But to wave the conspiracy flag that this is directed to "financially penalize" tourists, the largest industry in Italy, is just not correct. Heck, many tourists never even pay the ticket...

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2371 posts

Just to comment on instances in the US (and many of the same exist in Europe as well)where there are no physical barriers (gates, etc)but there is a sign or symbol and a camera that can potentially catch you and subject you to fine:
*Driving alone in a commuter lane.
*Not paying a toll in an "easypass" lane
*Driving in Bus lanes or streets restricted to buses
*Driving down streets that are restricted for certain hours or one-way at certain times
*Left hand turns at certain hours
*even parking in areas with variable allowances (only on MWF)
I have run into all of these in various cities, some easy to spot and understand as an english speaker, others even confused me.

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Hi! It's evil driver Roy again... :) Wow, I had no idea when I made my original post that such an uproar would follow...but it's been most interesting and entertaining to read the subsequent posts. I sincerely hope it's been educational as well for those planning trips to Italy.

But I will say in my defense (and I promise this is my last post EVER on this subject!) that I would hardly call myself an inexperienced overseas driver. Last year, I drove throughout Italy and put over 1,000 miles on my rental car without any problems whatsoever. This year, it was approx. 900 miles. I've also driven extensively in Japan (4 years), Portugal (2 years), and Ireland. But I was uninformed about the dreaded restricted zone cameras, with the exception of Florence. Rick's guidebooks talk about the perils of the Florence cameras at length, and as a result I parked at the train station about 20 km outside of town and took the train...great! Perhaps I've given Rick some ideas about info he can add to the Driving in Italy sections...it would be very useful information.

Bottom line: The difficulty of driving in Italy is greatly exaggerated, and I hope I haven't intimidated anyone from taking on the challenge. Heck, I wish all trucks and buses in the U.S. would stay in the far right lane like they do in Italy, for example. Just exhibit some planning, common sense, use the train for visiting the major cities, and now you know to be on the lookout for the restricted areas.

(And for those contemplating rental car drop off or pick-up at Termini, that's where I picked up my car this last time before heading out to Tuscany. With a good map and navigator (aka wife) in the passenger seat, it wasn't hard at all to drive out of the city. Just take a deep breath and go for it!)

Posted by Ron
Ron-in-Rome... now RPT in Atlanta!
1740 posts

Well said Roy!

Success driving in Italy is primarily based on KNOWING WHERE YOU'RE GOING - and sometimes where not to go! Because signage is so inconsistent, you just have to be prepared. And Italians are not BAD drivers... they're often aggressive, assertive, and sometimes "attentively unattentive!"

I also enjoy driving the autostrade in Italy as people follow the rules, stay to the right, etc. (Well, when they stay in one lane & not two - LOL!!). Hopefully an educational thread for all!

Ciao,
Ron

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Hey, Ron! Whassup?

Certainly driving onto nuke plants and military bases is restricted. That's why they have gates. I think I mentioned that. Didn't I mention that? That was part of my reasoning supporting the use of gates to keep casual drivers from driving through the areas where you REALLY want to keep them out. Now, Paul has provided credible examples of this kind of treatment in the US. That's what I was looking for...good job, Paul. However, I'm not familiar with HOV enforcement by camera on state or interstate highways. In Washington, these citations require State Patrol interception. Maybe the east coast is different? I don't know.

Sally, there is no problem returning a rental car to Termini. Follow Scott's directions as listed in this post: http://www.ricksteves.com/graffiti/helpline/index.cfm/rurl/topic/21084/car-rental-return-in-rome.html

Posted by Margaret
Bel Air, MD, USA
261 posts

Since the Towns need the car rental companies to provide the offenders information, and the the car rental companies then charge the offenders a fee, what would happen if I cancelled my credit card that I had rented the car with after returning from Italy? Would the rental car companies still provide my information if they weren't being paid for it? I'm fairly certain we drove thru a ZTL near Termini in Rome while attempting to return our rental car. Any thoughts?

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5737 posts

Neil, here's an example from Washington State. In downtown Seattle during morning and afternoon rush hours, you're only allowed to drive a car down Third Avenue for two blocks before you are supposed to turn right to get over to another street. This is so Third Avenue can be dedicated primarily to the Metro buses during rush hour. It's a concept that's hard for a lot of drivers to figure out, since it's kind of hard to come up with signs that clearly and quickly convey that idea. But those are not enforced through automatic cameras. We do have those kinds of cameras mounted at some intersections downtown to capture drivers who run red lights.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2371 posts

In response to Margaret, cancelling your credit card won't work. Since the card was active at the time of the rental, it is still valid for any charges connected to that agreement by that rental company into the future.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Michael, I appreciate what you're trying to do. The traffic restriction you've noted is not much different than "no parking" curb lane restrictions during peak hours that Seattle is littered with. And certainly you wouldn't get a ticket in the mail nine months later for a violation. People who run red lights and receive automated citations at least know what a red light means and may have a vague memory of running one especially if they are predisposed to doing such a thing. My salient point, which has been stretched and tortured, is that many US drivers in Italy are caught unawares by the ZTL enforcement because they have no experience with such things.

Posted by Cathy
Oakville, Ontario
38 posts

Just back from Italy and rented a car in Rome to drive to Florence. Our hotel was on the outskirts but still in a ZTL zone. Good advice from this site lead us to ask to have the car registered with the police, and to check back with the front desk to make sure it was...it was not...so we asked again. The second time apparently it was. We asked for a photocopy of the notification from the front desk, which they provided. We also kept a copy of the the parking garage payment for the same dates. We hope we do not run into any problems but who knows. While asking for the second time to have the car registered, another couple who had been driving around the same area for the previous week, were surprised to here of the ZTL zones...they then asked that the same registration take place. I think if you are going to drive near any of these cities, you need to protect yourself with all of the necessary documentation to at least give yourself a fighting chance if you are charged. I do agree with previous posts that reference some responsiblity on the part of the car rental agencies to inform their customers of the ZTL zones. If for nothing else, it is good customer service.

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

The sequel: Guess what arrived in the mail Saturday? Yep, the dreaded "Notice of Payment Before the Notification." In other words, the ticket. The amount? 103.95 euros! The ticket contains about what I expected in threatening language...."if you do not react to our request (?) for payment, we will proceed to make an official notification to the International Conventions in force within your country. And "The present notice is not a Notification of violation and so permits the receiver to make the due payment in amicable (?) circumstances thus avoiding the consequences of a notification according to the International Conventions in force." Huh? Anyway, still mulling over whether or not to become an international fugitive, but thought I'd let all of my RS friends know the latest.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Well, Roy, looks like everything is working according to schedule (grimace.) All I can tell you is that I received two such letters in February and have heard nothing since. It is the experience of some people that they received certified mail at some point after non-payment, certainly official notification is not valid unless a return receipt for such a letter is signed. Naturally I have no intent of signing for certified mail from Italy.

I'm not suggesting those receiving the initial payment request letters should not pay the fines. I'm simply relating my experience. It's up to individuals to decide whether or not to pay.

There is a lot of information on web forums on this topic. I have seen reports from US travelers who have not paid the fine and have successfully returned to Italy without complications. I have not yet seen a report from a traveler who did not pay the fine and DID have complications. I keep my eye on this subject to see if there has been anyone reporting any kind of repercussion from non-payment when traveling back to Italy.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

Neil, I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts, thank you! Love your writing style and you made me laugh. I thank everyone for the great info, very helpful :) I too will now wait for this dreaded letter as we just returned from Italy and I feel certain we must have broken at least one traffic law along the way, not on purpose mind you... Loved Italy though :)

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3202 posts

OMG Kent...I dread to think how many times I could've passed that sign!

Posted by Mme Eli
XXX
1170 posts

Didn't read all of the responses, but if you broke the law in any form, then pay the fine. Wouldn't foreigners get fined in the States if they broke some traffic law?

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

We all act as if driving is more a right than a privilege, and we forget that driving a car is using a lethal weapon. To get a license you have to study and pass a written test on the local rules of the road. Then you can go to another country, take this dangerous machine and run amok without having a clue about what's legal and what's not, never mind that you also don't know the roads, traffic conditions, local customs, or even the language. Given all that, IMO it is up to me, the driver, to act responsibly: learn all I can before I take the wheel, give my full attention to driving and suffer the consequences if I err.

Okay, I am braced for the barrage. Go for it!

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3404 posts

Having seen the picture of the ZTL sign posted by Kent (and thank you for that, Kent) it's hard to see why anyone could misunderstand or not understand its meaning. "Zona" = zone Traffico" = traffic "limitato" = limited and the hours are posted as 7:00am to 7:00pm. "LIMITED TRAFFIC ZONE 7:00 am to 7:00pm." Pay the fine and cease all the talk of scams and rip-offs.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

My big question is will a GPS keep you out of these zones. I doubt it but it would be a great feature.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

Answering Brad's question above: I don't recall anyone posting here saying their GPS warned them of the ZTLs in Florence or other Italian cities. In theory, an up to date map in a GPS would know the location of the ZTL cameras since the zone boundaries--where the cameras are located-- are relatively fixed.My Tom Tom GPS does warn me of speed enforcement cameras in Europe, but I have a personal policy of not driving in Florence (more trouble than it's worth) so I'll never know the answer to your question about Florence.

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Sorry, I tried my best to remain silent and enjoy the dialogue, but the condescending tone of some of the comments pains me to write a (final) rebuttal.

Chani and Norma, I think you can tell by the number of posts that (1) we are not all crazed, uninformed drivers driving our "lethal weapons" carelessly; (2) we feel that if the sole purpose of the restricted zones was to keep traffic out there would be more of an attempt to educate the boatloads of tourists (I particularly liked the suggestion of a handout with your rental car agreement - how hard or expensive would that be?); and (3)$150-160 dollars U.S. (per violation) just might be a little excessive - an Italian driver in the U.S. who busted a school zone wouldn't be fined anywhere near that amount, and I would hazard to say poses a more grave danger.

Norma, if you find the signs so simple to decipher, you might want to know that you misread Kent's photo - the correct times would be 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM.... :)

In any case, thanks for the interesting back and forth. I think we've opened a few eyes.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Roy...I appreciate the restrained tone of your last comment. But your judgement the ZTLs are only to rip off unwary tourists is not backed up by fact....just by your understandable anger at being caught. While more information would always be a good thing, I might point out that when you rent a car in Virginia, you are not given a handout explaining, say, the fines for passing a schoolbus stopped to pick up children. And for that offense in Virginia, you can be charged with reckless driving, which is a criminal offense that could result in a year in jail and a $2500 fine. Even the lesser charge of "improper driving" can mean a $500 fine....and they won't send you the ticket in the mail :) Even speeding in a school zone can get you a $250 fine, provided you don't end up with a reckless driving charge. I guess the moral of the story is....do the research before driving in foreign countries.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3404 posts

Oh, heck, Roy ! Sorry about the 30 minute discrepancy, but you certainly know what I meant about the sign being easy to decipher. Any unilingual traveller with the tiniest brain could figure it out . . . but maybe not, which seems to be the problem.

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Help! I have just now realized that I have a tiny brain - yikes! Could someone with a "big" brain explain to me why one would assume that an American traveler is unilingual?

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3404 posts

Actually, Roy, I did not misread the sign as posted by Kent but I did misremember it, since it was no longer in front of me as I typed my previous message. If I were in Italy and passed such a sign, and if I the hours were in doubt, I would stop my car and check the sign. Wouldn't you? A couple of years ago we got a ticket for parking illegally in Siracusa, Sicily. It pained us but we paid the 80 euro and chalked it up to the experience and expense of travelling. And when we told our B&B owner about it, he reduced the room rate by 10 euro a night.

Posted by Peter
Manchester
461 posts

Even if you can't understand the Italian writing the symbol on the sign, the red-bordered circle, is a standard European road sign identifying a vehicle free zone. If you enter a vehicle free zone without fully reading and understanding any exceptions then you are obviously taking a risk.

If you don't know what the symbolic sign means, then again, you are at fault. Most European road signs are pictorial and driving without a basic knowledge of road signage is reckless to say the least.

As to the belief that it is somehow a conspiracy to cheat tourists (specifically Americans?) Of course locals don't pay the fines because residents are allowed to drive into the ZTL so the only people who can be fined are out-of-towners. Italians from other parts of the country are much more likely to be driving through the country and are probably much more inconvenienced than a few North American tourists.

Posted by Claire
bergamo
401 posts

There seems to be this idea that even when abroad we Americans only really have to observe the rules that would be applied in the US, that if we are caught we weigh it against the current US law and decide then if we will comply or not. But it doesn't work that way, if you break the law in another country you deal with the consequence. This whole "in the US this wouldn't happen" doesn't matter. When in another country you follow the laws of that country or pay the consequences. And please get over this idea that these ZTLs were created for the sole purpose of ripping off North American tourists! Most Italians (and those non-Italians who live in Italy like myself) live our lives rarely seeing tourists or giving them a second thought.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Man, there's a whole lot of hyperventilating on this topic.

Clearly these zones are not set up simply to prey on tourists and enrich the coffers of the local police department. There are legitimate reasons for the ZTLs. Clearly those planning to drive in Italy should educate themselves about road signs and pay the price if they don't. But if you strip away all the huffing and puffing, here is what you have: the majority of citations are issued to foreigners, mainly tourists. Now, to suggest that if one recognizes the sign as limiting vehicle travel and wishes to stop and read the sign closely, that is a pleasant theory but let's not kid ourselves that it's easy to do so what with no place to pull over and some guy honking at you from behind and your wife refusing to help navigate but always ready to join in should the stress level need to be jacked up to DEFCON 1. So you see, by the time one gets a chance to investigate perhaps the video surveillance station has already been passed.

Secondly, comparing a ZTL violation to passing a stopped school bus in the US is like apples and oranges. I would suggest that passing a stopped school bus is a fairly rare occurrence, which explains the high penalty. If it wasn't a rare occurrence, I'm sure there would be plenty of public outreach to ensure drivers know the law. Not because we're worried about handing out lots of tickets, but because of safety. Also, the comparison fails because we don't have entire areas of cities where school buses circulate all day and tourists are sure to encounter them. My point is that if the authorities were truly interested in keeping tourists out, it would take little effort for them to do so. Otherwise, those who claim that the police are not dissatisfied with the present system of collecting lots of fines have a valid point.

Posted by Peter
Manchester
461 posts

Neil said "But if you strip away all the huffing and puffing, here is what you have: the majority of citations are issued to foreigners, mainly tourists."

I would be surprised if this is true, do you have any data to back this up?

"Now, to suggest that if one recognizes the sign as limiting vehicle travel and wishes to stop and read the sign closely, that is a pleasant theory..."

I don't think anyone did suggest that. I said that if you pass a no-vehicle sign without being sure that you are exempt then you are taking a risk. Sometimes risks have consequences.

I think it comes down to one thing, if you truly wish to believe that these things are some 'scam' or conspiracy to cheat Americans then nothing will change your mind, and that's a shame. It should be said though, that automated traffic cameras are the current vogue in traffic enforcement through-out Europe as are schemes to limit traffic in congested areas. In the future we'll see more limited access zones, automated speed cameras, red-light cameras; the latest thing in my country are cameras to police bus and cycle lanes. This things are not designed with Americans in mind (as most drivers on European roads are European) so there will be no massive poster campaign in the USA - they will be publicised locally because they affect locals every day.

If automated traffic controls offend so much then driving in Europe might be difficult without a "whole lot of hyperventilating" because they are a part of driving here now.

Posted by Ed
Brookfield, CT, USA
1 posts

Interesting thread. I received 2 notices, 1 each from Florence and Pisa, titled "Infringements of the Italian Highway Code". Both notices describe the offense as "Circulating in restricted traffic zone without authorization. Blah, blah, blah." The bottom of the notice states: "Not contested because - Survey electronic access to ZTL". I was in those cities in early July, 2007. I just received the Pisa notice in early September, 2008. Almost 14 months later! The Pisa fine is 113 Euro.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Peter, specific to your statement that you did not think anyone suggested stopping and reading the ZTL sign, I was responding to Norma's suggestion that "if I were in Italy and passed such a sign, and if I the hours were in doubt, I would stop my car and check the sign [sic]." I only mention this because one who directly quotes others, as you have quoted me, bears responsibility for attentive reading. Are you really surprised that one would contend tourists are inordinately subjected to these fines as compared to the local populace? I mean as a percentage of all travelers? Seriously? Seems a bit sketchy, credibility-wise. Anyhow, regarding any "data" I might possess, let's just review this earlier post by our boy Ron from Rome: "Well as someone who lives here like Claire & Jo, I can assure you the locals DO NOT get these tickets. Mostly because they know where these zones are, understand the signage, and avoid the consequences. Most tourists DO NOT realize they even entered these zones until they get the ticket in the mail..."

The defense rests...

Posted by Claire
bergamo
401 posts

Actually Neil,Italians get these tickets too. In the company where I work, and where all the salesmen and company directors have cars owned and registered by the company, we get one of these tickets sent registered mail at least once a month. All these people are Italian, and almost all of these tickets are from driving in places they weren't familiar with, using their GPS to navigate and going right through the ZTL zones. There is some groaning, but they do pay the fines. Some ZTL zones don't have cameras or ways of ticketing you, and maybe they hoped to get lucky, who knows, but since the majority of drivers in Europe are Europeans,(as already stated by Pete) I would say that they get the majority of these fines.

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Hi, Claire...so what you're saying is you disagree with Ron. That's cool.

I'm curious...these registered letters received by your company, are they received 8 months after the traffic offense?

Posted by Claire
bergamo
401 posts

My husband got a ticket for parking in a restricted zone a good two years after it happened. We had moved and it took them a while to track him down (the comune of Rome) and in the end they found him, and he paid.
Now there is a statue of limitations, but I don't remember what it is....it's pretty long though.
As for disagreeing with Ron, well, not exactly. I mean, I KNOW not to drive into Milan, there is a serious ZTL zone around the center, with cameras and signs, whereas a tourist may not. But yeah, Italians get these tickets too. Believe me, they are always running stories on the news about towns with traffic lights that go from yellow to red too quickly and the towns giving out a record number of fines. In most cases judges have ordered the cameras to be taken down!

Posted by David
Vashon Island, Washington, USA
1 posts

I just received a notice of Infringement of the Italian Highway Code for Pisa (Via Roma) for April 9, 2007. The charge is 115 Euros for “circulating in a restricted traffic zone w/ out authorization.”
Maybe I am an anarchist, but I do not like being charged w/ breaking the law BY A MACHINE…
We travel regularly to Italy and do plenty of driving. This particular situation is difficult in that even though it may be signed (I did not see a sign) there is generally an over abundance of signs on any given Italian road. On these restricted traffic zones, there is a lot of traffic on them… so it may be tricky to realize that you should not be there.
If the Police stopped me I would not have as much of a problem w/it (though I would not be happy, and would at least be able to talk to someone about it). CHARGED BY MACHINE, is the problem, no matter if in Italy, USA, Canada or where ever…
It does leave a sour taste in my mouth… and I am not eager to return to Pisa as a result. (Holding a grudge is an old Italian tradition)

Posted by John
Swindon
1 posts

I have just received a notification of 'Infringements of the Italian Highway Code' for 115 Euros from 10 months ago.

I had just arrived and was trying to find the 'Leaning Tower of Pisa' and had no intention of violating any restricted zone and would not entered one if I realised it was there.

In London, it is made really clear that you are entering a retricted zone amd these zone should be marked accordingly.

The fine does not fit the crime. 115 Euros for entering an area that was not well signed does not seem appropriate to me.

Posted by Doug
Portlandia
3289 posts

Please don't wake the zombies.

You're making a statement, not asking a question. Please start a new post to do either. Reviving long-dead posts doesn't help anyone.

Posted by NanC
Orange County, USA
155 posts

Two years ago I went to Italy in May. The following Feb. or so, I received two large envelopes, with notification that I had broken some vehicular code. I figured out it was a ticket, rather 2 tickets, for driving where I shouldn't have been driving in Firenze.

This didn't come from the police, or the rental agency, and my credit card wasn't charged, nor was I charged any administrative fee from the rental company.

But I planned to return to Italy so I sucked it up and paid. I broke the law, even tho I didn't understand it. That's how it goes here, doesn't it?

And for Pete's sake, I got the tickets both in the middle of Firenze, where I had inadvertenely driven my first day with the car. Talk about being dumb...

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

Roy is fine but his topic died from old age, let's let it rest in peace. Disturbing dead topics on internet forums is called necromancing (love the word, but not something that's encouraged).

Posted by fredina
ALCESTER, WARKS, United Kingdom
1 posts

Roy

Did you pay? Did anything happen if you didn't.
I have 4 of these damn things!!

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Something happened to Roy?

I woulda sent a card or something...

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

Wow! I never knew so many of you cared...kind of like reading my own eulogy! :)

Well, since you asked, I DID end up paying the ticket, albeit grudgingly. My wife had visions of me being hauled away during our next trip and I caved. What can I say?

Now, if I had FOUR of those @#$$%^& things, I think she might have just had to worry about it.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

I told you Roy was fine. And his topic is no longer dead, it's been resurrected!The original poster (or OP) is the only one around here who has the power and privilege of breathing into a dead topic's nostrils the breath of life.So, Roy has paid.What do you scofflaws out there have to say for yourselves? (you know who you are):)

Posted by Neil
Lake Forest Park, WA, USA
364 posts

Thank goodness, Roy...whatta scare!

My wife told me not to pay...evidently she's not worried about me being hauled off to the GrayBar Hotel. Or wouldn't consider that a bad thing. (rim shot)

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
6808 posts

"My wife told me not to pay...evidently she's not worried about me being hauled off to the GrayBar Hotel. Or wouldn't consider that a bad thing."Some of us will come and visit you in the Italian jail, even if your wife doesn't. Especially if the jail is someplace nice, like the CT. And we're still holding out hope the Firenze prosecutors will fly us over as witnesses at your trial. No sacrifice would be too great, to uphold the principles of Florentine traffic law.:)

Posted by john
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
1 posts

I also got one of these infamous tickets 9 months later.
As for the idiots that claim one should know, they obviously have not driven in Florence to find their hotel at night - on the far side of town.
And yes, I have lived and driven extensively in Italy, for more than a year, without getting any tickets.
I was warned that it would be almost impossible for a tourist to find the hotel without getting caught by a camera, but -----.
One is too busy navigating streets, that are one way and do not have proper signs, to notice the indistinguishable signs for restricted zones.
GPS is not good enough. Try a taxi and follow him to your hotel.
Yes its a total rip off!

Posted by Sheree
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
107 posts

My understanding of this website is that it is designed to give constructive advice. Here is my 2 cents...if you are going to drive in a foreign country (or your own for that matter) it is YOUR responsibility not THEIRs to make certain you know the laws and further to obey them to the best of your ability. If you make a mistake and get caught be adult enough to pay the consequence and move past it. Don't let it spoil your memories or the memories or excitement of others. Just a thought.

Posted by Mark and Kristy
Shrewsbury, USA
72 posts

Hi Roy,
I am not sure if someone said this yet, but I do know that some of the rental car companies actually have it in their agreement to definitely charge your card for the actual fine. They pay the fine to the police on your behalf, and then charge your card. I am talking about the actual fine, not just the fee that they charge to find you and process your information. Some rental car companies charge you the initial fee but not the fine. Some charge you the fee AND the fine. So, anyone who rents a car needs to find out specifically what the rental car company's policy is by reading your rental car agreement. It is right there when you sign your agreement, so it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone after they return as to how your rental car company will handle any violations.