I got a note from Michael via the contact page here at the Italy Logue asking if I’d heard anything about the Italian cops targeting tourists at traffic stops, presumably to extract some kind of bribe from them. I hadn’t heard anything about this, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, of course. This is Italy, after all, where for ages the only way to get things done was to slip someone some money under the table.
At any rate, a quick web search didn’t turn up anything, so I went to one of the forums for expats living in Italy that I particularly like. Here are a couple of the responses I got:
The random traffic stops are targeted at everyone – Italians, tourists alike. They check your car’s paperwork, your paperwork etc. Last time we were stopped, the policeman noticed my home state on my patente and mentioned his sister works at the university where my wife and I met. It’s all pretty low-threat (if your papers are in order).
This reply provided a bit of history for the searches as well:
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According to the Italian law, police forces (Polizia, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza, Forestale) have the right to stop anyone and anytime for a random document check. This is why anyone while in Italy has to carry valid ID on his/her person anytime, not just the driving license (although a driving license can sometimes be accepted as valid ID) but also personal ID or passport. Rules about this date back to Fascism, but were updated in later years as a means to fight mafia and the terrorist groups in 1970’s. Especially in some areas random controls on both cars and people walking by are planned not only for traffic reasons but most often in order to fight criminality.
Any good guidebook for Italy will tell you that if you’re planning to drive in the country, it’s a very good idea for you to get an International Driver’s License. This is especially true if you don’t speak Italian, as you won’t be able to talk to the police who might pull you over. You can usually get them at AAA outlets. You may never get pulled over, and you may never need to pull out your IDL, but you’ll feel better knowing you have it. Last time the husband got one, it cost a whopping $10, so it’s well worth the money.
Thanks for the question, Michael! And if you’ve got any questions you want me to answer, feel free to ask!
Photo by: Phil Downwind