Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stopped by the Italian police, but I easily slip off the hook

Thursday, April 13
I’ve seen them many times—Italian police officers standing on the roadside with their little red-green paddles, stopping cars randomly for safety and document checks. Police rarely stop drivers for speeding—they leave that for the automatic cameras. By random good luck, I’ve never been chosen for one of these routine inspections. Until today.

And it couldn’t have happened at a better time. For two months prior, we had been using a little Fiat Panda rented at a good price from our friends Eberhard and Dorothea. We had to return it earlier this week and take out a standard rental from the airport in Pisa to get us around for the rest of the month. It might have been difficult to explain why we were driving a car that belongs to a German citizen. I recently asked Eberhard to send us a note explaining that we have permission to drive his car, but we had used his car for many months without this letter, and luckily were never stopped.

Now I am driving a rental car, which has all the proper documents provided by the agency to show that I am the legal driver. No problem.

But there could be a problem. I became a resident of Montecarlo in March of 2016. Italian law states that residents have one year to get a proper Italian license. The lady at the police station reminded me of this law a couple of weeks ago when I went in to apply for a parking permit. Unfortunately, one of the patrol officers had just walked into the office 30 seconds prior, so if he was listening, now he knows I don’t have a proper license.

One might ask why this is a problem for me. Can’t I just go to the Italian DMV, or whatever it’s called, show them my American license, and get one for Italy? Not a chance. The two countries don’t have an equivalency agreement. I’ll have to pass a written and driving test, all in Italian. Before that, I’ll have to go to a driving school, which will have to certify that I am ready to take the driving test. Then I’ll have to pay the school to use their car to take the test, because only schools have cars with dual controls, a requirement for the driving test. All of this is expensive and time-consuming for someone who is only here three or four months a year. Plus, I’m not sure I’m fluent enough in Italian to pass the tests.

So I have an alternate plan, and today it worked to perfection. The traffic stop occurred in Pescia. My carta 
d'identit√† was beside me on the seat, but I covered it up. I handed over my American license. ‟Hi, I’m from the United States,” I said. ‟This is my rental car.” I started to rummage in the glove box for the rental documents, but the officer smiled and said that wouldn’t be necessary.

Then he used his best English on me. While his colleague took my license back to the patrol car for a computer check, the first officer asked me about my stay in Italy. ‟Is this your first visit? Where are you staying? How do you like it here? Do you have relatives here?”

I did start to worry a tiny bit because the colleague took more than five minutes to check my license. Could there be some possibility that his database would show somebody with my name and birth date who just might be a resident of nearby Montecarlo? Odds of this were slight, and I kept my cool. In the end, it was probably just slow wifi, a common problem here. My license was returned with a friendly smile.

It looks like my alternate plan will work fine, so long as that officer from Montecarlo isn’t the one who stops me. And I’ve never actually seen a traffic stop in Montecarlo. Someday, I may spend more time in Italy. I may become fluent in the language. And I might even get my license. But for right now, I’m on vacation, and we’ll stick with plan A.

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