AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — American motorists pulled over by Italian police officers in the last few months can count themselves lucky if they’ve escaped with only a warning.

Regulations that went into effect in September add a few wrinkles to the Italian driving experience. Those who aren’t up to speed — as well as those who drive well above the posted speed — could be in for a shock. Changes in the law include increases in the range of fines levied as well as a requirement that foreign drivers pay those fines on the spot.

“Or your car will be confiscated,” said Lia Scandola, an occupational safety and health specialist and traffic program manager at Aviano Air Base.

Those who can’t pay the fines could have their cars towed. To get them back, owners eventually have to pay the fines as well as the cost of towing and storing the vehicle. Scandola said she’s heard that some law enforcement officials have been a bit flexible, escorting drivers to a nearby automated teller machine.

Because of the new regulations, more potential fines are on the books.

Vehicles must have headlights on at all times except when driving within city limits.

Defining urban areas can be “very confusing,” Scandola admits. “But that’s what the law says,” she added.

So the base recommends that drivers turn their headlights on and keep them on.

Another regulation says drivers must be able to make themselves seen at night while putting out a plastic triangle to warn other motorists of a stalled car. That regulation is a bit vague, though many Italians have decided to purchase reflective vests that are widely available at gasoline stations (as well as base exchanges).

“It could be a flashlight, it could be a [reflective] belt or it could be the triangle itself,” Scandola said. “We suggest you use a vest or a reflective belt in your car.”

Other bases are playing it even safer.

In Vicenza, personnel recently passed out fliers that state motorists must use headlights 24 hours a day and carry reflective vests and working flashlights in the vehicle.

Scandola said the law doesn’t say reflective devices need to be carried in cars, though it’s probably implied. Police pulling over cars might routinely look for some reflective device, but they shouldn’t issue fines for not having it.

That’s not the case for the warning triangle and a spare tire, which are required for all vehicles driven in Italy, along with various documents of ownership and registration. Many Italians also carry spare bulbs for headlights, in case one goes out.

“[Police] don’t give you a chance to fix it later,” Scandola said, and issue fines on the spot. “You’re supposed to have it working.”

Fines for driving over the speed limit, failure to yield, not wearing seat belts and even leaving the car running unattended have all increased.

Someone caught going 1 to 10 kilometers per hour over the limit now faces a minimum fine of 33.60 euro ($40). Those speeding 11 to 39 kph over will pay at least 137 euro ($163) and as much as 550 euro ($656).

Those going more than 40 kph over will pay the hefty fine and get their license suspended for as long as three months.

Telling an officer you didn’t know how fast you were going because your speedometer doesn’t work isn’t a good idea, though. Those with broken speedometers now face fines of 3,200 euro.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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