Q We recently received a registered letter from Lucca, Italy, notifying us that we were in violation of "circulating inside a pedestrian area" on May 5, 2011. Because we did not contest the violation immediately, it said, we must be considered guilty. We were to send 123.76 euros, about $152. We did visit Lucca on May 5, but we never received a ticket. How do we fight this?
A People who get traffic tickets in Italy -- and there are many, judging by the outrage you find if you Google "traffic tickets in Italy" -- evidently fall into two categories: People who didn't break the law and people who may have broken the law unwittingly and are charged with driving "inside a pedestrian zone," which was this reader's violation.
The traffic-fine problem is so pervasive that the State Department (www.travel.state.gov) and the U.S. Embassy in Rome have sections on their websites devoted to the issue. Here's some intelligence from the latter (www.lat.ms/M3vwVq):
"Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called 'ZTL' and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway). Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit. ...Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police
Notification of those fines, the State Department says, can take a year to arrive.
The U.S. Embassy in Rome goes on to say that you can write to the local representative of the national government of the city and ask that the ticket be canceled or file an appeal through the justice of the peace in person or using the services of a legal representative. Then it provides a list of reps who speak English, which can be found at www.lat.ms/M3vwVq. (To find Lucca reps, look under the Consular District of Florence.)
The best advice, alas, occurs in the rearview mirror: If you're thinking of driving in Italy, think about puppies or flowers until the urge goes away. If that doesn't work, take this advice from Alex Roe, the founder of the ItalyChronicles.com:
"If travelers stay in city or town center hotels, they must insist that hotel staff tell the local police about their stay and provide local police with the license plate number of the car they are driving," he said in an email, explaining how to avoid getting a ticket for driving in a pedestrian zone. "This will mean that even if the car is caught by one of the many traffic cameras, a fine will not be issued.
"Travelers must insist on signed, written confirmation that the police have been informed. Then, if a fine does arrive, a copy of the confirmation letter can be forwarded to them. This should ensure the fine is annulled."
If your destination is Italy, Roe's advice can save you a world of trouble.
Today's column comes from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times.