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Over a year after a trip to Italy to visit the holiest sites in Christendom, I was shocked to receive traffic summonses (five!) stating that while there I had entered a restricted zone (ZTL). Even more shocking was that while two of the summonses specified my home address, they were issued to two different motorists. Moreover, all five stated that the infraction occurred at the exact same spot (a one-way street in Rome) and all occurred in a three-minute interval.

I called the Rome polizia and patiently explained that I was not two of these other people and in addition I did not back up repeatedly on a one-way street and continually enter the ZTL so I could not have committed repeated violations at the precise spot three minutes apart. He replied their records were never wrong (to which I took exception inasmuch issuing a summons to the wrong person qualifies as an error in my book). Moreover he stated that I could only protest by returning to Italy to traffic court (fat chance) and even if I did, the time for protesting had expired. He also could not explain why Italian law states that summonses must be sent within one year to the accused and these notices were not timely sent. I guess he did not have to explain, given his certitude that Italian records are never wrong.

Many months later a U.S. bill collection agency called. I again patiently explained, stating I would pay one fine but not five that were clearly erroneously issued. The collection agent said he had the record before him and had no authority to make an adjustment. However when I pointed out the many errors in the file, the misrepresentations he had just uttered and suggested we end the call, he then began a unique version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” I politely suggested he pound salt and terminated the call.

A brief surf through the Internet reveals my story is not unique. Thousands of Americans making pilgrimage to the Eternal City have been traumatized by local Italian authorities. A couple of recommendations.

1. Use public transit. Don’t rent a car.

2. If this is going to cause you sleepless nights, pay the bill collector when he comes calling.

3. Bear in mind that under Italian law, the authorities are required to notify motorists with 365 days of the “infraction.” Bureaucracy being what it is, this deadline often falls by the wayside. In any event, if the notice is delinquent, you are under no obligation.

4. Another feature under Italian law related to timing is that after five years, the entire matter is expunged.

5. Write your congressman, suggesting legislation prohibiting US car rental companies from providing personal information to any Italian traffic authority.

Above all, don’t let this taint your Vatican City pilgrimage. It is truly a gem of Christendom that does not deserve to be tarnished by grasping bureaucrats. Good luck, or perhaps more aptly, buona fortuna.


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