Traffic Fines and TollMany European consumers on holiday in Italy like to explore the country on board of their own or a hired car. When they return home from Italy, tourists frequently turn to the Network of the European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) for information because they received a letter containing a traffic fine or a payment request for an unpaid toll.
Tolls in ItalyThe fact that using the vast majority of Italian motorways is not free, and that it is practically almost impossible, to exit an Italian motorway without being asked to pay is actually quite well-known to European consumers.
Nevertheless, it sometimes happens that European consumers receive demands for payment of Italian motorway operators or collection agencies acting on their behalf, because they had failed to pay the tolls on the motorway or because they did not pay in full.
If the consumer choses to pay via his credit or debit card or a prepaid “Viacard”, he sometimes might not notice that the payment was not properly carried out. Reasons for this are for example that the card was unreadable, expired or without credit. A paper slip will be printed out and the barrier opens, the consumer can continue his journey. On the paper slip the consumer finds the information that no payment was made, and instructions on how to pay: at the next staffed toll station, at a toll station service (Punto Blu) or even on the motorway operators website. Many foreign consumers, however, believe that the paper slip it is a receipt ... while the opposite is the case.
Those who do not pay, will receive a payment request by post by the motorway operator or a collection agency. It is therefore advisable to check the paper slip carefully and to assure oneself that the payment was done correctly.
The issue around the period of limitation in relation to motorway tolls in Italy is not unequivocally regulated. While the contractual limitation period is 10 years, a period of 5 years normally applies to penalties regulated by the Road Traffic Code. Since a part of the Italian motorways is in private hands, these motorway operators often insist on a 10-year period.
Traffic fines from ItalyIt goes without saying that consumers must comply with the applicable traffic laws of the country they are travelling to and are subject to the penalties provided therein.
During their holiday in Italy, lots of consumers often make first acquaintance with a particularity, the "traffic restricted zones" (in Italian: "zona a traffico limitato" ZTL). The entrances to these areas are usually marked with a no vehicular traffic sign and a supplementary sign explaining the times of the ban and which categorise are excluded. The entrances to these zone are very often monitored by cameras who register the transiting vehicles and detect the number plates.
Municipal authorities of many towns and cities, in particular of those world-renowned for their art, which are favourite destinations of European tourists, created limited traffic zones with electronic gateways monitored by cameras. A lot of tourists do not know that by entering these zones they infringe the traffic regulations and that therefore they can be fined and might also be pursued. At times these signs are overlooked or misinterpretated by tourists but ignorance of the law cannot be used of an excuse.
Illegal parking, and the disregard of speed limits are other very frequent traffic sins commited by travelers - and not only by them.
When a driver who is not an Italian resident is caught offending the traffic code and stopped by the authorities, the driver can alternatively decide to pay the penalty immediately (losing his right to appeal against it), or pay a deposit and thus appeal against the fine to the prefect or the magistrate. If the tourist refuses to pay both the fine and the deposit, the car can be blocked by the authorities and the driver can not go on without paying the penalty.
However, if the breach is recorded using an automated system, such as a camera at an electronic gateway to a traffic restricted area, on-the-spot-fining is normally not possible. In such cases, certain procedures, both relating to the identification of the data of the holder of the foreign vehicle, as well as to the notification abroad, are provided. These procedures can, however, differ from state to state, depending on international conventions or agreements between the countries concerned.
Art. 201 of the Italian Road Traffic Code foresees a time limit of 360 days for the notification of the fine departing from the ascertainment of the infringement. From the context of the article, one can deflect that if the foreign driver of an Italian rental car who was photographed while speeding, might receive the notification even after 360 days, if the fine was notified to the car rental company within the limit of 90 days foreseen for national notifications, and the company had yet to disclose the identity of the driver.
If a car rental company receives the fine, it will disclose the data of the driver to the authorities. For this activity the company will usually charge the driver a fee normally directly by charging the driver’s credit card.
The limitation period for the sanction is 5 years.
In practice, consumers often will get a request for payment before notification ("preavviso di contestazione") by a private company on behalf of the municipalities or the police first. By payment of the amount, the consumer can avoid the actual notification the costs for the notification of the traffic fine ("verbale di contestazione"). It should be noted in this context that an appeal is possible only after the actual notification of the fine. For those who live outside of Italy, the time limit for both the appeal to the prefect and for the one to the justice of peace is 60 days from the notification - because they are administrative acts, a foreign consumers might have difficulties to go through with the appeal without an Italian lawyer, as the appeal must be written in Italian.
A Council Framework Decision of the European Union (2005/214/JHA) provides for the mutual recognition of financial penalties - including traffic fines - in the EU. The competent authorities in the State of residence of the offender should recognise the fine without any further formality being required and shall take all the necessary measures for its execution. Only for certain reasons, the order can be refused, for example, if the financial penalty is below 70 Euros.
In almost all EU countries, this Framework Decision was implemented into national law. The implementation is mandatory. Italy is among the last countries implementing this disposition (Decreto legislativo 15 febbraio 2016 n. 37 - legislative decree February 15th 2016, n. 37).
The cross-border determination of the data of the car owner will be much easier in the future with the implementation of the new Directive 2011/82/EU which provides new rules for information flow of data between the Member States.
Should the authorities of the State in which the traffic offense was committed envision to initiate follow-up proceedings to the traffic offences there will be some rules about the information letter to the car owner. The Member State of the offence will include the nature of the road safety related traffic offence, the place, date and time of the offence, the title of the texts of the national law infringed and, where appropriate, data concerning the device used for detecting the offence and the sanction. The information letter must be sent in the language of the registration document, if available, or in one of the official languages of the Member State of registration. The Directive does not contain any provisions according to execution.
The directive must be transposed into national law within the 7th November 2013. It will be applicable to the following road safety related traffic offenses: speeding; non-use of a seat-belt; failing to stop at a red traffic light; drink-driving and driving under the influence of drugs; failing to wear a safety helmet; use of a forbidden lane and illegally using a mobile telephone or any other communication devices while driving.