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New Italian driving rules take force PDF Print E-mail
Aug 15, 2010 at 05:59 PM

ImageAs Italians continue their summer holidays (statistics released last week say 22 million Italians, that is, almost a third of the population, have chosen August for their vacations), there is one more obstacle to perfect happiness - along with some bad weather over this holiday weekend of Ferragosto (August 15th), mounting political instability and concern about this fall's economic situation: As of August 13th, in fact, the new and stricter Driving Code (Codice della Strada) took effect making it clear that officialdom would like to crack down on the worst of Italian driving defects, although how effective they will be remains to be seen.

ImageA total of 80 provisions of the Codice have been revised but the major change is that regarding drunken driving and the new rules, along with banning sales of alcohol on the Autostrada, the Italian toll road, between 10p.m. and six a.m., also sets very heavy fines and other punishments for driving over the limit.

In the case of drivers under the age of 21 or of neopatentati, those drivers who have had a license for fewer than three years (and who according to statistics are responsible for roughly 30% of accidents on the road), any traces whatsoever of alcohol in the system will mean a huge fine and the suspension of the driving license. Bus, truck and taxi drivers are also forbidden to drink any alcohol whatsoever while at the wheel and can be fired from their jobs if they end up with a suspended license for driving with any alcohol content in their blood.

Anyone driving after drinking over the limit, which in Italy is 0.5 grams per litre of blood, will haveto pay a fine of between 500 and 2000euros, although for those who remain under the 0.8 level, there will be no risk of jail time. If a driver who is over the limit causes an accident, the fines will be doubled and the automobile sequestered for six months. Drivers with an alcohol content of over 1.5grams per liter of blood who cause an accident will have their license suspended for two years or revoked. In the latter case, a new license cannot be granted until three years have passed. People whose licenses have been suspended will have to rely on public transport, or friends, as they will not be allowed to drive motorcycles or minicars.

Other provisions require restaurant owners to keep a breathalyzer on the premises so that customers can test themselves before hitting the road. Harsh fines have been set for anyone the motors of motobikes or minicars. Drivers over 80 will be required to submit to a full medical exam every two years. And non-residents can be asked to pay fines on the spot or else risk their car being confiscated.

Italian police claim to have issued hundreds of thousands of tickets for speeding in recent years and subtracted millions of driving license points from those driving faster than they should, but as far as I can tell it isn't doing that much good. I myself, and I confess to driving an average of ten km over the toll road speed limits of 130 km per hour (no tickets so far), am repeatedly being passed by vehicles going far faster than I, which makes me wonder if the police are exaggerating or if there are simply a lot of people who get tickets and don't care.

The only good news for those who like to drive fast is that on those stretches of Autostrada where a Tutor system (the one which measures a driver's average speed over distance, and not his or her speed at one single point), has been installed, it may now be possible for toll road managers to raise the speed limit to up to 150 km per hour.

My biggest pet peeve as a driver, however, will not be solved until the Italians decide to get more patrol cars out on the highways instead of relying on electronic speed recorders. Although in general, drivers here are more careful on the open road than they once were, there is still an inordinate number of drivers (all men, as far as I can tell), who continue to speed up close behind you in the fast lane until you get out of their way. I am sure there is something in the Driving Code that makes this illegal, if only by classifying it as reckless driving. But if there are no police around to see it, how do these offenders ever get a ticket. Once upon a time, the majority of those men who drive this way, seemed to be behind the wheel of a Mercedes. Now it is SUV drivers who are the guiltiest, although men between 18 and 30 (my estimates) may well behave this way no matter what kind of a vehicle they are driving.


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