Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Busted for speeding in Italy

Thursday, November 10, 2011
This misadventure really started May 3, when I was taking Randall, Lela and Micah to the airport in Pisa in our rental car. The roads to the airport were well marked, but getting back to Lucca led to an hour of utter frustration. Coming out of the airport, there were signs directing me to Firenze, Pisa Centrale, Livorno and a half dozen other places, but none to Lucca, which was not in the same direction as any of these other cities. Okay, there was one sign, but it came with absolutely no warning and it is located exactly at the exit, giving me no chance to get into the exit lane. I can verify this because during the hour I was wandering around, maddeningly, I passed the same spot twice!

Yes, I should have brought a map or had GPS, but I had checked the map before I left and saw that it was relatively easy to get to the airport, and I assumed getting back would be the same, which it would have been if I could have started out on the correct highway. Anyway, I didn’t, and I got lost in the early morning darkness and mist, and I became especially frustrated when I realized I had passed the only Lucca exit sign I had seen in the last hour, for the second time. By this time, I had a pretty good idea how I could get back to that same spot, and with mounting anger, I sped up. That’s when I observed what seemed like a flash of lightning, only very close and not nearly as bright as lightning, and my frustration reached a new level, because I knew what it was—a camera flash. I had just been photographed by an automatic traffic camera for speeding.

I knew about these traffic cams because I had read about them while researching car rental agencies online. I had read reviews of the Maggiore rental agency, and people had generally had decent experiences with the agency, but some had complained about getting charged twice for traffic tickets. First, Maggiore charged a fee a month or so after the camera-recorded infraction for the administrative costs of giving the traffic police the names and addresses of the driver on the day the ticket was issued. Later came a ticket from the police. Doing a little more reading, I found that this was standard practice for all auto agencies in Italy, so I rented from Maggiore and overall had a good experience.  I also read that most of the tickets came from automatic cameras in large cities, Firenze and Pisa included, for driving in lanes that were for buses or in a zona traffico limitato, where one has to have a special permit to drive.

I hoped I was wrong about the flash, but it seemed pretty likely that it came from a camera. And sure enough, on July 10, two months later, I received a charge from Maggiore of 36 euros, or $50.81, on my credit card. No explanation was given, but I asked the credit card company for documentation, and a month later I received a document showing that Maggiore had received a request for information from the police, so my fears were confirmed. Now, six months after the camera flash, I have received my speeding ticket. It states that at 6:11 a.m. May 3, I was near Pisa and going 121.6 kilometers an hour in a 90 kph zone, or 76 mph in a 56 mph zone. It further states that I must pay 240.27 euros within 60 days of the fine notification. Otherwise, the fine will be 454.27 euros.

Okay, so how do I pay, and what happens if I never pay? How is Italy going to collect from all the foreigners who are accumulating traffic tickets under these relatively new traffic cameras? Right now I am too busy to look into this, so the bill sits on my desk while I take care of more important issues, or at least less unpleasant ones.

Next: Traffic cameras a common complaint in Italy

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