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.

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

  1. In the summer of 2018 I received a parking ticket from the city of Ravenna several weeks after visiting there stating that I had parked illegally over night on a street reserved for local residents. I was told by one of the residents the morning after that I was illegally parked and would likely get a ticket. She pointed out the notice, in Italian, posted at the end of the street. Although the ticket seemed extremely high, over 75 euros, I acknowledged that I had violated their restriction and paid the fine. Several weeks later I received a similar notice from the the city of Bologna followed soon after by a notice from the city of Milan. It seems impossible that I have committed any traffic offense in either of these locations. My visit to Milan consisted of driving on well posted city streets, parking at the Holiday Inn parking garage and continuing from there on the main highway to Malpensa where I returned the car. Naturally the car rental company charged 50 euros to provide my information to each of these these authorities. My relatives in Europe tell me that the Italians are notorious for sending such notices and that I should ignore them. I just received another one (#5) from the Comune di Milano Polizia Locale. I’m inclined to ignore it as well. Since I do not anticipate renting a car in Italy again are you aware of any other consequence other than being bared from renting?

    • Dale,
      I typically travel to Italy every year (until Covid hit). I would get at least 1 ticket for either speeding or driving in a LTZ each time ( 4 of the last 5 trips). Same deal every time, I get a ticket in Italian (which I can’t read/speak) and English, and I generally ignore it. The most recent one I got was from Bologna (from my May-2019 visit). I received it 10 months after I arrived home (which I’ve learned is within the 12month period). Same as before, I smirked, and tossed in in the trash. Fast forward, the Italian crooks have hired an Italian Attorney to collect the debt and informed me that the fine of 217euros is now 267euros and must be paid within 15days. Since I never signed any receipt confirmation, they have no way of proving that I ever received the notices. Additionally, I have never logged into the their mickey moose websites to verify if it was me or not. I never drove in an area that other drivers were not next to me doing the same thing. i love Italy but I feel that they purposely take advantage of visitors to their country.

      I’ve rented vehicles from different companies each time to avoid the awkward conversation is the ticket ever comes up. Its never come up. The good part is they have no way of affecting your driving record here in the US. Its still unclear if the foreign attorney (aka, debt collector) can somehow enforce anything in the US. My guess is that an American Company will have a hard time trying to collect any money on something that is so vague and (at the time of writing this message) is now 3 years old.

      Side note:
      -I avoid Sixt. They did not honor my rental because I didn’t’ bother getting the AAA international license (which NO company has ever asked me more).
      -I rented from Avis (Milan Airport). I returned the car, without a scratch on it (other than the original it came with which was noted on the rental agreement). 1 day after renting, weary of Italians, I canceled my credit card. 2 days later, I logged in to the credit card and saw a $1,700 charge from Avis. I disputed the charge with both my credit card and with Avis. Avis claimed I caused the damaged. I asked them to provide the before and after photos if the vehicle (which I know they didn’t have) so I could compare to my (which I took). Long story short, the credit card company handled it and Avis just gave in…

  2. Do you have to pay a ZTL fine in the city where the infraction took place? Or can you pay the fine in any Italian post office?

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