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Rome's "vigili" (traffic police) aren't vigilant PDF Print E-mail
Jan 30, 2008 at 03:28 PM

      The other day the doorbell rang but it wasn't , as I had expected, Letizia, our big-haired postina, or postwoman; a throaty voice, identified itself as  ne belonging to a vigilessa, a woman traffic policeman and said it had come to deliver my latest traffic ticket, probably for parking my motorbike on a sidewalk when I couldn't find any other place to leave it. Delivering traffic tickets by hand? Another Italian custom that reminds me that this is a very strange place. Haven't they heard of the post office?

       We started chatting, and the vigilessa, an elegant brunette in her early forties, explained that she was doing these deliveries to earn overtime. Who could complain about that, what with rising prices and statistics telling us that a goodly percentage of Italian families is now having trouble getting by through the end of the month?  But surely, in a city where double-and triple-parking are the rule rather than the exception, where driving through red lights is all too frequent and where, despite the risk of losing a hefty number of points on one's license, thousands  - no, hundreds of thousands - of people continue to talk on their cell phones while driving, there might be something better for the vigili to do to rack up those extra hours.

      While we were engrossed in our conversation, for example, I could be sure that at the juncture near my home between Viale Trastevere and Lungotevere Raffaele Sanzio  was in full gridlock thanks to the lack of discipline among Roman drivers, who think nothing of driving into, and blocking, an intersection even they know full well the light is about to turn red. This happens every single morning but I have yet to see a vigile stationed there. Sometimes there are some across the bridge on the north-moving Lungotevere . But who knows why as  gridlock never happens on that side of the river.

      Except for the days on which there are major demonstrations or strikes, you actually don't generally see that many vigili around. And when you do, there are usually two or three of them together, generally chatting rather than enforcing traffic regulations (unless, of course, they have a quota of traffic tickets to fill). It's hard to know where the root of the problem lies. People say  that the majority of traffic police here have gotten their jobs through some kind of pull rather than because of merit so a lack of professionalism is not surprising. (Once when I was trying to ascertain at what age a child is allowed to sit in the front seat of a car here, I got three different answers from as many traffic policemen). Another is that the higher ups in the force are equally infected by the far-reaching Roman attitude of indifference to rigor and discipline.

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