This was not my first traffic ticket in Italy but it was one that definitely screamed I should have known better. Most of my previous tickets had been for parking violations. Either I let the time on my parking disc expire or decided to tempt fate by parking in a restricted area. Not an area that was clearly posted as divieto parcheggio or divieto di sosta (Italian for no parking) but a less conspicuous blue lined area which in Italy is a no parking space.
My previous tickets all involved immediate feedback; a notice on the window of my rental car and a follow-up trip to the local post office. Unlike the US, Italy’s poste italiane is not just for sending packages. Most Italians are there to pay bills; electric bills, phone bills but you can also take care of your traffic tickets at the post office. My Italian cousins took me there and showed me how to pay my fine (about 35 EU at the time) to the amusement of the Italians standing in line watching gli americani struggle with Italian bureaucracy.
The traffic citation I am writing about today arrived at my home address 7 months after the fact in an official looking envelope from the Commune di Milano. Written on stationary with the colored seal of the city of Milan it was presented with an impressive security stamp and signed Resp. Del. Proc. Dott. Tullio Mastrangelo. It eloquently began with “Dear Madam, Dear Sir and ended with we hereby inform you that a fine has been imposed . . . in violation of the Italian Highway Code”. Not for parking, not for speeding but for driving in the infamous Area C, a restricted or limited traffic zone (ZTL – Zona a Traffico Limitato) in the center of the city designed to reduce pollution by limiting traffic and promoting “sustainable mobility and public transport”.
I’m all for that but let the driver beware, traffic ticketing in Italy is at an all time high. In 2009 an article in the Florentine stated that “every 40 seconds, a motorist in Florence receives a traffic violation with police issuing approximately 90 tickets every minute”. That translates to 1,253 tickets a day making Florence one of Italy’s most heaviest fined cities. Huge volumes of vehicular traffic in cities like Milan, Florence, Pisa and other Italian cities have ZTL and pedestrian-only areas in the historical and hotel district where only cars with special permits may enter. These areas are posted but can be easily overlooked especially by tourists. Some navigational systems like Garmin have created digital maps of Area C zones to alert motorists of current restrictions.
Contrary to popular opinion driving in Italy is not an extreme sport. Motorways are good and Italian motorists do not all drive Ferrari’s but driving in Italy can be extremely expensive if you don’t pay attention to driving restrictions. Like our Area 51 Italian Area C zones are off limits and crossing the border without proper authorization can get you in trouble.