The dreaded “ZTL” and the evolution of the Italian traffic ticket.

From the department of “oops, I did it again”…

It happens to the best of us.

As American wine professionals have begun to travel to Italy again, it was inevitable that they would inadvertently commit a traffic infraction or two.

The most common ticket is for speeding. And today, enforcement of speed limits comes via electronic cameras (like the one in the photo below).

Speed limits are generally well positioned and visible. But occasionally, while driving on a country road in the dark, you’ll happen upon a small village where the speed limit is suddenly decreased and the signs aren’t so easy to discern.

That’s what happened to me the last time I got a speedy ticket in Italy while driving back to Siena from Montalcino one foggy evening.

Because most Americans have to rent cars to get around Italian wine country, the ticket goes to the rental car agency. The car companies don’t share the ticket with you but they do send you a notice that you have received a ticket. They also charge you a ticket processing fee.

Then the waiting begins.

In my experience, it takes about six months, give or take, to receive the actual ticket. By that time, it’s already long past the prompt payment period and you’ve already accrued a second fine for late payment.

The instructions for payment, often written in macaronic English (excuse the unintended pun), indicate the bank info for payment. But after you pay, you receive no confirmation from the traffic authority (at least in my experience). You just have to hope that sum has been received and processed.

The problem with not paying — whether because of negligence or spite — is that you can be black-balled by the rental companies. In the early years of the electronic systems (which started to come online after 2009), people who didn’t pay were often refused service at rental car counters when they returned to Italy. I heard of numerous instances when that happened to my traffic pirate colleagues.

The other top infraction is the encroachment of the dreaded ZTL or zona [a] traffico limitato, the limited traffic zone (dreaded even by Italians).

These areas, where only authorized local residents can drive, are intended to reduce congestion and pollution in urban areas. And the fines can be stiff.

When I returned to Bra in Piedmont last summer to teach at Slow Food U., part of the piazza where my usual hotel is located had been changed to ZTL. Unaware of the upgrade, I drove right through the zone as I tried to reach the hotel’s parking. Because the hotel, which also includes a restaurant, had expanded its outdoor dining, the courtyard where I used to park my rental was now closed off.

A few months after returning to the U.S., the notice (and fee) from the rental car company arrived. When I went back to Bra to teach in the fall, I went to the local police station and they printed out the ticket for me. I then took the ticket to a post office where they processed my payment.

But then, on Saturday of last week, more than six months after the infraction occurred, I received a letter from a third party requesting payment (despite the fact that I had already paid).

The good news is that the third party, European Municipality Outsourcing, is relatively easy to navigate. It even gave me the option to inform them that I have already paid (which I did).

I still haven’t received confirmation that they have received my message. And I still haven’t received a response from the email I sent them with my documentation (the receipt from the post office).

But I’m hopeful, if not optimistic, that I’ll be able to resolve the issue. It’s great to see that EU authorities have created a more user-friendly platform. I’m disappointed that I have paid and am now being asked to pay again. But hopefully, this will all be resolved soon. I’ll follow up with a post once the outcome is clear.

Thanks for reading and hoping this is helpful for future Italian travelers!

Read more about Italian and European traffic laws here.

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