Drivers using cellphones in Italy could be slapped with hefty fines and lose their licenses
By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 18, 2019
NAPLES, Italy — Military personnel would be wise to keep their hands on the wheel and off their phones while driving in Italy.
The Italian government is expected to enact much harsher penalties for drivers caught holding their phones, whether it’s to text, chat or fiddle with their GPS.
According to the draft law making its way through parliament, drivers could be fined as much as 1,700 euros ($1,915) and lose their licenses for up to two months. Repeat offenders could pay as much as 2,588 euros in fines and have their licenses suspended for three months.
The current fines for unlawful cellphone use run from 161 euros to 467 euros. Hands-free use with Bluetooth and earphones will still be allowed.
The new law would apply to the thousands of U.S. servicemembers and Defense Department employees with NATO drivers’ licenses in Italy. A suspended license could cause problems for those who live off base and commute to their jobs, especially in areas that lack public transportation.
Sailors and military employees at the Navy base in Naples applauded the tougher penalties, saying they welcomed anything that makes the roads safer in a region notorious for unruly driving.
“Yes, please make it happen,” Petty Officer 2nd Class William Bowen said. “Everybody’s on their phone way too much here. I don’t know how they (Italians) are not in more accidents.”
In Italy, where it’s common for motorcyclists to zip in between cars at high speeds on the freeways, it’s important that drivers aren’t distracted, said William Eldredge, a computer services administrator at Naval Support Activity Naples.
“I’m much more worried about people on their cellphones when I’m on my motorcycle,” Eldredge said.
But both he and Bowen questioned whether tougher penalties will make any difference in cities like Naples, where enforcement often appears lax.
“If they want to put another arbitrary law on the books for a cop to enforce when he feels like it, then it’s bad,” Eldredge said.
The Italian parliament is expected to vote on the more severe penalties in May. A similar draft bill was proposed in 2017, but stalled in the legislature. However, officials are confident this bill will pass, the Italian media has reported.
An Italian road-safety panel recently found that three out of four road accidents resulted from drivers’ use of hand-held devices.
Italy has one of the highest rates of fatal accidents in western Europe, at 55 per million residents, according to the European Transportation Safety Council. By comparison, in Spain the rate is 39 per million, in Germany 38, and in the United Kingdom 27.
If the crackdown on illegal cellphone use is what it takes to get people to drive safely, Lt. Cmdr. James Hostetler said, he supports it. Americans shouldn’t feel they can do something unsafe here such as texting while driving, which is illegal in the U.S., he said.
“It should not be an issue for U.S. personnel,” Hostetler said. “If you care about your safety, don’t text and drive.”