Driving in Italy Is a Total Racket! In 10 Days I Got 4 Tickets Totaling ~$827 – Here’s What You Can Learn From My Mistakes

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INSIDER SECRET:  Traffic tickets in Italy are outrageous, but if you want to rent a car anyway then pay for it with one of the best credit cards for car rentals so you won’t have to pay for the rental company’s expensive collision coverage.  But read the fine print to be sure that the coverage will apply to international car rentals.

I have always considered myself a good driver. I drive a significant amount (~20,000 miles a year), and have a maintained a nearly spotless driving record. I have only ever received 1 speeding ticket in 15 years of driving!

Well that is, until I took a trip to Italy last year. During this trip, we wanted to explore the Tuscany region of northern Italy before driving down south to Rome and Naples.  Over the course of 10 days of driving in Italy, I received a total of 4 tickets which cost me $827.72!

I planned ahead and thought I did everything right. I drove carefully and cautiously, but mistakes were still made. You might want to consider my story before you rent a car in Italy (hint: I’ll never do it again).

I Rented a Renault Clio for Driving In Italy and It Quickly Turned Into One of My Biggest Travel Mistakes Ever (Photo by Michael Minelli/Getty Images)

How I Got 4 Tickets in Just 10 Days While Driving in Italy

Before my trip, I had heard all the warnings that getting tickets in Italy is nearly unavoidable. But I was confident I could be a cautious driver and avoid any conflict with the law.

After all, I actually spent a year living abroad in France during my early 20’s and never once got a ticket while living there. I had driven quite a bit in Belgium and the Netherlands as well, without issue. How could Italy be any different?

See Related:   Top 5 Ways to Get to Cheap Flights to Italy Using Miles and Points

With my trip to Italy coming up, I went back and forth on whether or not I wanted to rent a car. After considering that I was exploring northern Italy (Tuscany region), where trains are less common, I decided to do it. Having a car would provide me with the independence of being able to explore the area, plus I would get to experience the classical Tuscan country roads I would miss on a train. And with a car I was able to take a side trip up to Switzerland for a day.

I did my research.  I decided to rent through Avis because it was an American company. I did this specifically in case I ran into any problems such as a damage dispute, a speeding ticket, or an unfortunate car accident. I wanted to have a contact in the US I (or a family member) could work with if something bad happened.

My girlfriend and I wanted to take a road trip through beautiful Tuscany, this is what we envisioned but is not what we Got. (Photo by Alex Curtis/Million Mile Secrets)

I called my car insurance provider (Progressive) to see if they would cover a rental car in Italy in case anything happened. They said I would be covered. I also called Chase to see if the primary car rental insurance that I get with my Chase Sapphire Reserve would cover me in Italy, and they confirmed that both Italy and Switzerland were covered. This was good, I was basically double-insured. I could now confidently reject the insurance coverage offered by Avis.

One thing to remember is that you will need to have an international driving permit when driving in Italy. It’s cheap and easy to get (no test required), take a look at this post for the steps on how to get an international driving permit.

I picked the car up at the airport and the check-in process went surprisingly smooth. The rental agent was extremely helpful and nice to us. As a bonus, he spoke nearly perfect English (something that is actually fairly rare in northern Italy). We joked around a bit and he ended up offering us a car upgrade. I was given a brand new Renault Clio with less than 500 km on the odometer. He told us that we would be the first customers to drive this car.  It was loaded with built-in GPS and automatic transmission (in Europe, an automatic transmission is usually extra). Things were off to a great start!

Before I left, the agent warned me, that Italy will ticket you for going just 1 kilometer/hour over the speed limit, so I better be careful. I thanked him, we loaded up the car and headed off to our first destination.

See Related:   4 Ways to Avoid Over Paying for Your Rental Car

Overall the trip went smoothly. I had read beforehand that speeding is taken very seriously in Italy. The rental agent confirmed this before I left, so I watched the speedometer like a hawk. I used the cruise control as much as possible to prevent speed creep. My girlfriend also put her expert-level backseat driving skills to good use to ensure I didn’t step out of line.

What’s funny is I always felt like I was going too slow. My girlfriend and I discussed this constantly while we drove. Local Italians were always flashing their lights at us and speeding past like we were going 10 mph under the limit.  It was a constant occurrence.

These Autovelox stations keep you in check. Just 1 kilometer/hour over the posted speed limit can result in hundreds of dollars in fines. (Photo by elesi/Shutterstock)

Our car’s GPS also had built-in speed camera maps.  It would beep very loudly as you approached a speed camera and the GPS screen conveniently told you how over or under you were to the speed limit as you approached the camera. It counted down by the second as you approached a speed zone.

All in all, after 10 days in Italy, I felt great about my driving.  I was confident that I had done nothing wrong and stayed within the speed limit. My girlfriend even joked with the rental agent when we handed back the keys saying, “if anything he’s going to get a ticket for going too slow.”

Ticket #1:  $315 for “Speeding 21 km/h Over Within 3 Km of Build-Up Area”

Leave it to the Swiss, they had a speeding ticket waiting for me before my plane landed on the tarmac back home. Our day trip to Switzerland, with only about 2 hours or so driving on Swiss roads was enough to get us a ticket!

You might be thinking, “wow you were going 21km/h over the speed limit, you’re driving like a maniac”, but the thing is, I didn’t know that I was going above the speed limit. In fact, I thought I was driving 15 km/h below the speed limit.  This is where things get frustrating.

You see, I was driving on the A2 Autobahn. This road has a posted speed limit of 120 km/h. I was driving 105 km/h, and was slowing down because we were entering a tunnel. Unbeknownst to me, there is a law that states that within 3 km of a city, you can not drive over 80 km/h. Neither me, nor my girlfriend ever saw a sign indicating this (in any of the cities we approached). If these signs exist, we never saw one. Once we got to the city we saw the signs that stated a 60 km/h speed limit, which we honored, but we never saw anything indicating the upcoming city or speed change prior to the city border.

The reason I remember this is because we actually laughed several times at how Swiss roads will change from 120 km/h down to 60 km/h and then straight back up to 120 km/h after you pass the city. We thought this was hilarious that the speed limit just halves or doubles as you enter or exit a city. As we passed multiple cities we saw this phenomenon of no “intermediate” speed limit as you approached the city.

My guess is that there might be a sign stating “approaching build up area” in German that we were unaware of. This would tip off the locals that they need to slow down, while we were oblivious since we were focused on speed limit signs.

My Official Ticket From Swiss Police, As Provided By Avis (I Had To Do Everything Through Avis).  Personal Information Redacted

All of this was very confusing to me when I initially got the ticket. The ticket stated I was on the A2 Autobahn, which is a 120 km/h road. I ended up launching an inquiry with the Swiss police, at which point they provided more details. I use the term “build up area” because that is the exact translation they gave me when I inquired about this. I don’t truly know what is meant by that term other than I am guessing a city.

During the inquiry, I learned that I was 2.8 km from the city when I was cited. The speed limit apparently changes 3 km from a city.  Go figure.

The ticket cost 260 Swiss Francs, plus another 50 Swiss Francs from Avis for handing over my information. This totaled 310 Swiss Francs or ~$315.

Ticket #2:   $213.20 for “Circulating in the Vicinity of a Public Transport Area”

I got this one in Milan.  I found out about it ~6 months after I returned back home. I never actually received a ticket for this one in the mail, but instead was charged the total amount by Avis.

I called Avis to get more details on the charge and all they could say is that they work with local authorities to pass on these charges. I may or may not get the official ticket in the mail at some point in the future. So far, a year later and I have yet to see it.

But I did ask them for more details about it and all they could tell me was the official offense and the location. It was in Milan in front of the train station and my offense was for “circulating in the vicinity of a public transport area.” I have no idea what this means and neither did the Avis agent.

Milan has almost nowhere to pull over. We found a brief opportunity to do so and check my phone for the location of our hotel. It took 15-30 seconds, without interfering with traffic at all, and it resulted in a ticket. (Image by Westend61/Getty Images)

My guess is we got it when we pulled to the side of the road near a bus stop, to briefly check Google maps and find our hotel. We had circled the train station looking for our hotel a few times, and after about 3 passes we couldn’t spot it. I pulled over for ~30 seconds onto the shoulder to check my phone and find the hotel.  We didn’t interfere with (or even see) any buses or public transport of any kind, but this is the best guess I have to what happened.

The ticket was for €112 + €50 by Avis, for a total of €164 or $213.20 based on the conversion rate at the time.

Ticket #3:   $175.50 for “Speeding 1.8km/h Over While Entering a City Zone”

This ticket came while visiting the beautiful city of Pisa, and was charged to me ~10 months after our return. As a side note, this was our favorite area in all of Italy to see.  There is a surprising amount to do in Pisa, besides just the leaning tower. The city is just stunning, almost beautiful enough to be worth the ticket.

Our speeding this time was 1.8 km/h above the posted speed limit. Again, I never got this ticket in the mail, instead, it was just passed on from Avis.

I find it frustrating that they are giving out tickets for speeding what is equivalent to just ~1 mph over the speed limit. It’s possible this could be because of inaccuracy with car’s speedometer or the equipment that measures your speed (or even within the margin of error of my eyeballs looking down at an analog dial while focusing on the road).

Coincidently, I have a friend who also mentioned getting a speeding ticket for going just 2 km/h (~1.5 mph) over the speed limit in Florence. A quick Google search will also yield hundreds of results from travel forums of people experiencing the same ticket for minuscule overages.

I think the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the best monument in Italy. (Photo by Guzel Studio/Shutterstock)

So be careful out there. The speed limit in Italy is nothing to play with. If it says 60 km/h, it means it!

I never got the official notice (or maybe it is still coming, this was only a few months ago that I paid the ticket). The ticket total was €85 + €50 from Avis for facilitating the charge for a total of €135 or ~$175.50 based on the conversion rate at the time.

Ticket #4:   $124.02 for “Vehicle Parked in Parking Lot Without Paying Due Amount”

This is a simple parking ticket while visiting Rome. It was a particularly frustrating ticket to get because the hotel we were staying at specifically told us that there was no cost for using this parking lot.

It took a full year after we got back from our trip before we got this ticket in the mail. So even a year after our return trip, these tickets keep rolling in.

My final (hopefully) traffic ticket in Rome. this time for illegal parking, despite the locals working at my hotel claiming it was fine to park here (Photo by Alex Curtis/Million Mile Secrets)

Our parking ticket claimed that photo evidence was available of our infraction. Excited to see my trusty Renault Clio breaking the law, I punched in the provided information in order to see my photo.  What I got back was a message stating (in Italian) that the photo was corrupted. Ok, sure. I wonder how often a tourist using a rental car gets a $124 parking ticket with a conveniently “corrupted” photo.

Maybe its a coincidence, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Should You Pay Italian Traffic Tickets?

Having told this story now to many friends and family members, I keep getting asked the same question, “So are you going to pay the fines?”

First of all, yes I have already paid the fines for tickets #1 – 3. Avis has charged me their fee for ticket #4, but I have yet to send the final payment to the city of Rome on that one. Unlike other cities, Rome only allows you to pay via wire transfer, which is not very convenient.

If you are wondering if you should pay Italian traffic tickets, it really will depend on you. It is clear that Italy does come after you for unpaid traffic violations through a US-based collection agency.  Many travelers can attest to these calls. But the good news is that traffic violations can no longer post to your credit report.

I just paid the fines. I don’t deny the fact that I am guilty of them (although I do question the final parking violation). But I do find the fines to be petty or silly.

Are Italian Traffic Tickets a Scam?

The more I look into the traffic tickets in Italy, the more I clearly see this is a serious problem. No other country has a a worse reputation than Italy for issuing excessive traffic tickets to tourists. Another word I see thrown around a lot is the word “scam.”

So, are Italian traffic tickets a scam?  Well, not really… but also, maybe.  Let me explain.

On one hand, I did clearly break the rules with these traffic violations, I can not deny that. Going 1 km/h over the speed limit, is still above the speed limit and therefore is against the law.  Pulling over for 30 seconds to check my phone near a bus stop (even if no buses were present during my stop) is still technically against the law. So I can’t deny the guilt with these infractions.  If I had done the same things in the US, I would have still been guilty, I just probably wouldn’t have gotten caught.

But in Italy, everything is on camera, so one small infraction, even for a second, or a tenth of a mile, is enough to get you a ticket. In Italy you will be caught whenever you step out of bounds, and that is a big shift for Americans (myself included) to get used to.

So with that, Italian traffic tickets are not a scam. They have laws and I did break them, even if barely or only for a moment, the laws were still broken.

Or were they?

Your driving is being monitored everywhere in Italy. One minor mistake will almost certainly result in a ticket. (Photo by Di Soccio Massimo/Shutterstock)

Evidence has been coming out lately that some of these speeding cameras are actually unreliable. Data shows that speeding tickets issued by speed cameras rose 987% between 2010 and 2015 and continues to rise each year. Some local Italians have overturned speeding tickets in the constitutional court of Rome by proving that certain speed cameras are not reliable. Unfortunately, it is impractical for a tourist to fight this battle in court, so we just have to pay.

NPR reported in November 2018, that a small town in Northern Italy of just 120 residents installed a single speed camera and filed 58,000 speeding infractions during its’ first 2 weeks of operation. This was a huge boost for the economy of this tiny town.

Italy is notorious for using traffic tickets as a significant revenue source for the country, and tourism is a huge target. For example the city of Milan alone rakes in nearly half a million dollars per day (€408,000 a day) of revenue just from automated speeding tickets!

The Silver Lining:  I Earned 3X Points While Paying Most of These Charges

The good news is all these charges except for the final parking ticket were charged by Avis and passed onto the authorities on my behalf. This meant the charges showed up on my credit card as a charge from Avis and I received 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points since Avis used my Chase Sapphire Reserve® card that they have on file.

So if nothing else, at least I started earning more points towards another trip to Italy, which I will NOT be renting a car for.

Bottom Line

During my 15 years of driving (with over a year of that driving in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands), I have only ever gotten 1 traffic ticket. But after just 10 days of driving in Italy, I got a total of 4 tickets totaling $827.72 in fines.

  • Ticket #1:   $315 for “Speeding 21 km/h Over Within 3 Km of Build-Up Area”
  • Ticket #2:   $213.20 for “Circulating in the Vicinity of a Public Transport Area”
  • Ticket #3:   $175.50 for “Speeding 1.8km/h Over While Entering a City Zone”
  • Ticket #4:   $124.02 for “Vehicle Parked in Parking Lot Without Paying Due Amount”

I have paid the fines and am moving on with my life. My goal is not to deny my guilt, but instead, to warn other drivers considering renting a car in Italy. There are cameras everywhere, and one tiny mistake (even if for a second) can result in hundreds of dollars of fines. Drive like someone is ALWAYS watching.

By the end of the trip, I spent $827.72 in tickets and fines, $113.99 in tolls, $315.63 in gas, $142.94 in parking, plus $425.77 on the car rental. That is a total of $1,826.05 for 10 days of driving in Italy. Easily the biggest and most expensive travel mistake of my life.

Don’t forget, you will need to have an international driving permit when driving in Italy. And in my case, my credit card car rental insurance covered my rental for damage or theft in Italy. But that isn’t always the case.

What has your experience driving overseas been? Was Italy nightmare for tickets?

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Featured image by Michael Minelli/Getty Images.

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