Friday, November 23, 2018
Good news—perhaps. Italian traffic tickets are now easier to pay
Several years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about the perils of traffic tickets while driving in Italy. Now it’s high time for an update. The blogs have received more than 17,000 page views, with the most popular entry written in 2014 and titled “What will happen if you don’t pay your ticket for a traffic violation in Italy?”
A few things have changed since I wrote the other entries. How do I know? To help out my readers, I’ve engaged in more first-hand research. Translated, that means I’ve been nabbed two more times by those infernal autovelox cameras, both time in Altopascio, a small city near Lucca. And, truth be told, I didn’t really do it for my readers’ benefit. It just happened, but I may as well get the satisfaction of knowing that my mistakes might help others avoid similar problems.
What has changed is that I now receive clear notification in English explaining the violation and providing easy directions for how to pay using either a credit card or bank transfer. Starting in 2016, the Italian police have relegated the collection of fines to a very efficient agency called European Municipality Outsourcing (EMO). It took me only a few minutes to pay my most recent fine for an infraction committed at 5:42 at Piazza del Porto Altopascio on March 21: “Crossed the intersection while the traffic light was displaying red.” The same thing occurred with a fine I received a year earlier for accidentally entering a ZTL, a limited traffic zone, which are ubiquitous in Italy.
I’m pretty sure my latest violation only happened because the traffic was backed up and I got stuck in the intersection, but I’m not contesting the ticket. The photo shows my car in the intersection. The EMO website provides some daunting information about contesting the fine: “The appeal to the Prefect consists of an administrative appeal that must be submitted in Italian by registered mail with proof of receipt. In order to forward this appeal, it is necessary to fill out a specific form and enclose all documentation which is useful and valid for assessment of the appeal by the competent Prefect. The form and the address can both be downloaded from our website. Please note that the reasons for the appeal must be well founded. If the appeal is not accepted, the Prefect will then issue an injunction requesting payment from you of a sum which is at least double the original amount.”
The chances of me being able to convince a prefect of my innocence, in Italian, is only a scintilla above 0%. Do I really want to go to that trouble just to be able to find out how much beyond double the original amount I’ll be required to pay? No thanks. Instead, I took advantage of an opportunity to reduce the fee by 30% by paying within five days of receiving the notice. Thankfully, the traffic tickets do not arrive by registered mail, so EMO does not have any proof of when I received the notice, nor do they ask for any. In fact, I’ve been out of town for the past two months, and I just opened the mail three days ago. The traffic ticket could have been sitting on my desk for weeks, but I entered into the website form the day I actually read the notice, and the website accepted my answer and reduced the fine from 247.11 euro to 181.91 euro.
Of course, there will still be many foreigners who receive traffic tickets and feel they are unfair. The Internet is full of forums where people are griping about ZTL and speeding tickets and asking what will happen if they don’t pay. Most of the time, the latter question results in a flood of answers from other travelers who overwhelmingly feel the system is, for the most part, valid. I’ve now paid three fines in my nearly 10 years of regular travel in Italy, so I stand on the side of the law abiders, though I have strong sympathy for those who end up paying multiple fines for infractions they don’t understand.
In case you are on the fence about this topic, I will close with a smattering of arguments in favor of the law and traffic cameras:
· “Pay the fine, assuming you were where the letter says you were at the time. Learn from it and next time drive a little slower and pay attention to the speed limits, which are not always posted. You are expected to know these things before you drive a car in that country, same as you are expected to understand road signs and priority rules.”
· “Traffic cameras are a way of life in Europe. We all get fined occasionally, but the simple way to avoid being fined is to know the speed limit and stick to it.”
· “At least you only get a fine. Locals get hit with a fine and are in danger of losing their driving license. Pay the bill.”
· “The ZTL zones in the historic areas of many cities are one of the reasons why many people urge travelers to use trains rather than rental cars except when they are needed to visit the countryside. That suggestion, and information on traffic laws, appears in guidebooks to Italy. It’s very risky to head off on a driving vacation in a different country without researching its traffic laws in advance. It can turn into a very costly experience.”
· “The cameras are regularly tested and are more accurate at measuring your speed than your car speedometer is. A small percentage of leeway is worked into the speed to allow for that (the EMO website says 5%).”
· “Assume that Big Brother is watching. It’s smart to know — and follow — the area speed limit.”
· “I know it's frustrating to get ticketed many weeks later from a camera you can’t confront or dispute in a location you are unlikely to remember. Unfortunately, that’s part of the price of driving in France and Italy, where cameras are everywhere.”
· “I bet you thought that since you didn’t see Italian cops around you could get away with violating speed limits or maybe drive on bus-only lanes. It doesn’t work that way. The American government reads our emails, and the Italian government films us driving.”
· “This is a useful reminder about the benefits of transit options other than rental cars. Even disregarding transit rules by throwing away your validated ticket is cheaper than a Hertz administrative fee plus the traffic violation fine.”