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ZTL (Limited Traffic Zones)
The historic centres of many cities, towns and villages throughout Italy have ZTLs. These limited zones have been put in place in order to reduce congestion and pollution making the centres more pleasant for residents and visitors alike. The zones in each place will have its own regulations; some zones are restricted to certain hours, some to residents only, some to cars with certain permits. These conditions will be set out underneath the road sign which marks the entrance to the zone. Although the sign is an international driving sign, it is one that some countries do not use, so it is essential that you familiarise yourself with this sign, before you travel to Italy .
Here is a link to a photograph of this sign:
It is the sign in the middle of the shot, be warned though that the signs are often smaller than this and the conditions of the ZTL may be so small that you have no hope of reading them while travelling in a car. Basically, if you see a red circle on a white background, do not pass it. The reason this is so important is that, if you look at the photograph again, above the sign is a camera. This camera is scanning the number plates of every car that passes the sign and if you are breaking the conditions of the ZTL, the hire car firm will be contacted, they will pass your details on to the authorities and a fine of over 100 Euros will eventually make its way to you. Most hire car firms will also make an administrative charge, of up to 50 euros, for passing your information on to the authorities; this is not payment of the fine.
Not all ZTLs are camera enforced, but in this region, those in Florence , Pisa , Siena , Arezzo and Lucca , thus far, certainly are. The cameras are not always as obvious as the one in the photograph and even if there is no camera, if you enter a zone when you should not, you risk being ticketed by the police there and then.
In Florence, a new sign is also being introduced, which does not have the red circle on it, but has a traffic light system, showing red when access is limited and green when it is not. These signs are currently found at the entrance to the ZTLs on Piazza Tasso, Via dell'Agnolo, Via Romana and Borgo San Frediano. This sign has wording in Italian and English; here is a link to a photograph of it:
If you are staying in a hotel within a ZTL, your hotel can arrange a permit for you to load and unload your car at the beginning and end of your stay and travel to and from your parking. You will need to contact them and ask for this to be done, they will not do it automatically. You will need to provide a registration number/plate number for them to arrange the waiver. Alternatively, ask your hotel about where you can park outside the zone.
Hire cars are not exempt from these restrictions, the hire company will probably not warn you of the ZTLs and GPS devices will not steer you around them. If you are picking up a hire car in a city centre make sure you get clear directions to get you out of the city, without straying into a zone. It is very easy to miss a sign and follow a car with an appropriate permit into a ZTL.
It is your responsibility to make sure that you know about the ZTLs and avoid entering them. It doesn’t matter where you live, if you enter a camera enforced ZTL, a fine will make its way to you, sometimes over a year later, ignorance of the law will not get the fine overturned. If you do not pay, then the fine will be doubled and may eventually be passed onto a debt collection agency or the hire car firm may take the ayment from your credit card. Cancelling your card will not stop this happening, as when you sign the rental agreement, you authorise such transactions to be made.
Here are some useful maps
Entrance to the ZTL in Florence are marked on this map, that you can zoom in on:
Map of ZTL in Florence:
Map of ZTL in Pisa:
Map of ZTL in Arezzo:
Map of ZTL in Lucca (in PDF format):
If and when maps of other ZTLs become available, they will be posted here.
In many towns in Italy, the historical centre is walled. It is a good idea to assume that visitors are not allowed to drive within the walls.
You must also pay careful attention to road signs to make sure that you are not driving in a bus lane, as again, any contravention of this traffic regulation can result in a fine eventually finding its way to you.
Pay careful attention to speed restrictions. Again, there are cameras on some roads and motorways and again, if you are caught speeding a fine of over 100 Euros will eventually find you.
There are signs warning of the cameras and the cameras themselves are housed in large grey boxes by the sides of the road. On major motorways there is system they call "tutor" which identifies you at a certain point on overhead cameras and then monitors your progress through a number of similar points. The system works out your average speed and if it decides that you couldn't have gone that distance without breaking the speed limit, then you can expect a fine in the post.
Of course, you could also be stopped and ticketed by a police officer. The police also have the authority to make an on the spot fine.
Generally speaking, the speed limits are 50km/h in built-up areas, 90km/h on ordinary roads, 110km/h on dual carriages and 130km/h on motorways. In wet weather the limit is reduced to 90km/h on dual carriageways and 110km/h on motorways.
Another area for potential problems is parking. Many towns and cities have large car parks, or parking lots, outside the historic centre and these are probably the easiest to use.
On street parking is marked by blue, white lines or yellow lines. The blue lines indicate that you need to pay for the parking. Find the nearest parking sign and follow the instructions; usually there will be a pay machine nearby. White lines indicate free parking (except in Florence- see below), but again, find the parking sign and check that you have followed the instructions. Often your time will be limited and you will need to set the time of and display a parking disc on your dashboard. The hire company may have left one of these discs in the car; alternatively you can buy them in tobacconists and petrol stations. They are called ‘disco orario’. Sometimes an hourly parking scratch card, that you can buy in tabacconists, is required, instructions are in Italian, English, German and French on the reverse. So you can see how important it is to familiarise yourself with the various parking signs and check you have followed instructions correctly. Yellow bays are for disabled users only.
However, and it is a big however, parking in Florence with white lines is for residents with parking permits ONLY. If you park here in white lined bays, you will get a ticket and fine. If you do manage to find some street parking that is open to non-residents, then be warned that there will be a sign somewhere saying what day you are not allowed to park there, to allow for street cleaning. The sign, in Italian of course, will read something like 'every odd Tuesday'. The cleaning is usually done between midnight and 6am, so it will only affect people planning to park overnight, but if you leave your car there on that specified night, it will be towed away and you will also get a fine.
Make sure you never park anywhere where there is a no parking sign. Parking regulations can be enforced by on the spot tickets and fines, fines coming through the post, towing away and wheel clamping.
Children under 4 need an appropriate car seat. Children between 4 and 12 need an appropriate car seat or a seat belt adjustor. Where no car seat or adjustor is available, children between 4 and 12 must sit in the back seat.
Italy has a strict drink-drive limit of 0.5mg of blood alcohol. This means that you cannot drink more than one glass of wine without risking going over the limit. Penalties for being caught above this limit can be fines, vehicle confiscation, license bans and imprisonment.
A driver may only use a hands free device.
The use of seat belts is compulsory in the front and back.
Stay on the right unless you are overtaking. Many motorways have tolls; you can pay with cash or credit cards, follow white signs to booths to pay by cash, blue signs to booths to pay by credit card. The lanes with yellow signs are for frequent users that have a telepass.
It is compulsory to use dipped headlights during the day outside built-up areas and everywhere in poor visibility.
If you have a full driving license from an EU country, this is all you will need. If you have a license from a non-EU country you will need to take your driving license and also an international driving permit with you. You should carry these documents and the rental car agreement with you, in case you are stopped by the police. Some form of photo ID is also required.
It is compulsory to have a warning triangle and high visibility vest in your car. The rental company should provide these items in the car, the high visibility vest needs to be kept in the front of the car. It is now compulsory to have winter tyres or carry snow chains on many main roads between 15th November and 15th April. See this website (you can use google translate) for details:http://www.infomotori.com/auto/2011/1...
At the bottom of that page there are links to each region of Italy, which detail exactly which roads have this requirement. Here is the link to the affected roads in Tuscany:
Police are stopping people to check they are meeting these requirements and there are fines for non-compliance, so check with your rental company that you have the right equipment.
The use of horns and the flashing of headlights is a common occurrence, but the use of horns in built-up areas is supposed to be prohibited except in times of extreme danger.
Car Hire Insurance
The CDW included in the rental price often has a deductible (excess) of as much as €2000. The deductibles are different if the car is stolen than if you have an accident. It is a good idea to pay extra for zero deductible insurance, either to the rental company or to an insurance company of your choice.