The number of road deaths in Italy this summer is down by 35 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to figures published by the interior ministry. Between 30 June and 28 August there were 698 fatal accidents compared to 904 during the same period in 2002. The number of accidents in which people were injured also fell, from 17,264 to 13,170. Officials see the decrease as a direct result of the new highway code introduced in July, according to which driving offences are punished with the deduction of points from the offender's license. Drivers who reach a maximum of 20 points will have their licences suspended.

In fact the decrease in offences for not using seat belts and motorbike crash helmets and in driving under the influence of alcohol shows that Italians have become more disciplined under the threat of losing points. They remain incorrigible, however, when it comes to the use of mobile telephones at the wheel: undeterred by the 5-point penalty, 7,621 people were fined for the offence this summer, compared to 2,591 last year. The number of speeding offences has also gone up, from 43,615 to 63,178. However the increases here may be due to stricter controls by the police, such as the introduction of 4,000 new speed cameras on Italy's roads.

The interior ministry has had further cause for satisfaction in the absence of the expected bureaucratic chaos. The process of sending out fines and registering point subtractions from licences on the central database appears to have gone relatively smoothly so far, with the first fines reaching offenders within the stipulated 60-day period.

However, in many Italian cities it was not clear whether the trespassing of unauthorised drivers into the historic city centre zona a traffico limitato, or ztl, which in many cities is closed most of the day to drivers who are not resident in that part of the city would result in the loss of points or simply a fine. In Rome, the city council and traffic police have finally agreed that the penalty will only be financial and that the amount remains unchanged at 63.