New road rules were introduced at the start of July in an attempt to improve road safety in time for the summer holidays, when millions of Italians traditionally jump into their cars. Italy has one of the worst road safety records in Europe: 6,682 people died in road accidents in 2001, according to the national statistics institute ISTAT, against 3,443 in Britain (department for transport figures), which has roughly the same population. The poor quality of some roads, congestion, inadequate patrols, the Italian love affair with speeding, reluctance to wear safety belts and drunken driving are all partly to blame.
The main novelty contained in the code, which could still be modified by parliament before becoming law later this summer, concerns the introduction of a British-style points system (patente a punti), whereby drivers who lose 20 points have their licence confiscated. Under the new rules if you are caught exceeding the speed limit by over 40 km/hour, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or driving on the hard shoulder, for example, you stand to lose ten points, while overtaking on the right, shooting the lights and failing to buckle up will lose you five. Furthermore, fines for offences have doubled. For a comprehensive list of transgressions and penalties see the road police website www.polstrada.it, or tel. 0622101.
It is still too early to say whether the new highway code will make a positive impact on road safety in the long term. However, on the first two weekends in July the death toll was down by almost half over the same weekends last year; on the first, 4-6 July, road police recorded 46 road deaths against 81 on the first weekend in July 2002, while on the second, 11-13 July, 33 people died in road accidents compared with 60 the year before. This decrease may be due to additional caution by drivers and more rigid controls by road police in the first few days of the new code.