[This is an excerpt from our Driving in Italy ebook, which you can download for free by entering your email address here]
Anyone who is planning to drive in Italy needs to be aware of Limited Traffic Zones, or Zona Traffico Limitato in Italian, abbreviated to ZTL. Many historical centers of Italian cities have set up these limited traffic zones in order to reduce congestion and pollution, and there are significant fines for driving into one of these zones unauthorized.
Italian ZTL fines: What are they?
Italian ZTL fines are tickets that are automatically generated and sent to drivers who cross into the designated Limited Traffic Zones (ZTL) in a city, and who are unauthorized to do so. Not every city has a ZTL area, but Italian ZTL fines are no scam. In 2008 in Florence – a city of 365,000 residents – almost 900,000 tickets were issued for traffic violations. Of those, more than half were given for driving unauthorized in an area of restricted access.
The boundaries of the ZTL are clearly marked, except that you need to know what you’re looking for. The sign above is an example of a ZTL boundary sign.
How to interpret a ZTL Sign
The red circle means no cars allowed. The numbers underneath are the times of day, using the 24-hour clock. So the sign above means no entry between 8 am and 8 pm. The fine print says that cars with a pass can enter.
Five Reasons It’s Easy to Get a ZTL Fine
1 – You’ll see other cars crossing the ZTL boundary and may assume you can proceed. Not so. You may see plenty of Italian drivers crossing into the ZTL zone, but they’re locals and they have passes. You do not, and you’ll get a fine.
2 – All cities do not have the same rules, so learning the rules for Pisa may not be useful for Florence or Milan. In some cities, non-residents cannot enter the ZTL, period. In other cities, any car can enter, but only with a pass. In Milan, access to the ZTL, and what kind of pass is needed depends on how environmentally friendly the car is. The details are written on the signs, so you just need to recognize and read them. But that’s not easy when you’re in a moving vehicle, and because these zones are in city centers, there are usually many other distractions such as pedestrians, bikes, vespas, narrow streets, lots of parked cars, etc.
3 – Zones are monitored by cameras, so tickets are issued immediately and automatically, as soon as (and each time) the car crosses the ZTL boundary. There is no chance to explain to an actual person, “but officer, I didn’t understand….”. The ticket is sent to the address registered with the car, or for a car rental company, the ticket will be forwarded to the home address associated with the credit card (with an additional forwarding fine and a fine from the car rental company – more details below).
4 – GPS systems do not know about ZTL zones, and will just suggest the shortest route, which may indeed include driving straight into a ZTL.
5 – Once you’ve started approaching the ZTL area, it can be impossible to turn around. By the time you see the sign, you may not be able to avoid getting a fine. Due to traffic, narrow or one-way streets (which are probably the reasons the zone is designated ZTL), it may be necessary to enter the Zona Traffico Limitato in order to leave it.
What does a ZTL ticket Cost?
Fines are different depending on the city, but expect the traffic violation itself to be between about 50 and 80 Euros. If the car is rented, the rental car company will usually add an additional fine. So it’s entirely possible that up to one year after returning from your Italian vacation, you receive a fine in the mail for 130 Euros. Read about all the gritty details of people who’ve been-there-done-that in this thread on TripAdvisor.
How To Avoid Getting A ZTL Fine: 4 suggestions
As with any traffic fine, avoiding a ZTL is mostly common sense.
- So, there’s the obvious: don’t drive in the historical center of Italian cities. Take the train. Or park your car and use the bus, the subway, the tram, or a taxi when going into the center. And, reading this post already helps, since you should be able to recognize the sign and understand the 24-hour clock (where 18 is actually 6 pm, etc).
- Just being aware of the existence of these zones will help you avoid them.
- If you are planning on driving in the historic center of a city, make sure you have a map of the ZTL area (links to maps of Pisa, Rome and Florence ZTL zones below) so that you don’t accidentally get caught in #5 above.
- If you are renting a car, it doesn’t hurt to ask the car rental place whether there are ZTL areas in the city, and whether you should buy a pass. Car rental offices within a ZTL zone will give you a temporary pass. But regardless of what they tell you, you are still the one responsible for any fines. I usually pick a car rental office on the outskirts of the city and take a taxi to get there – partly for ZTL and partly because I never recommend driving in Italian city centers, for the stress and the bumper to bumper traffic.
ZTL is not a scam
Let me emphasize this: Limited Traffic Zones are not a tourist scam. People seem to think this is a scam bit it isn’t. Nor is it aimed only at tourists – plenty of Italians receive these fines. Getting a fine in this zone is the same as getting any other traffic fine. The zones were created to reduce traffic and pollution in very busy Italian city centers.
Pisa ZTL information
Rome ZTL information
The city of Rome provides useful information about ZTL in English as well as daytime and evening maps with limited traffic areas in the historical city center.
Florence ZTL information
Photo of ZTL sign from Wikimedia, Photo of Milan traffic by Uberto
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