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HEALTH

Could Italy become the first European country to ban smoking while driving?

A complete ban on smoking at the wheel is being considered this week as Italy's parliament debates changes to the Highway Code.

Smoking while driving isn't always against the law in Italy, but that may soon change.
Smoking while driving isn't always against the law in Italy, but that may soon change. Photo: @apho/Unsplash

Tougher penalties for using phones while driving, regulations on the use of e-scooters, increased speed limits on some motorways, and incentives for taking a taxi to work are also among the proposed law changes put forward by parties within Italy’s coalition government this week.

The potential new rules have not yet been approved, and will be evaluated by the Environment and Transport Committee on Tuesday before being debated in parliament later this week, according to news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Italy to double fines for disabled parking space violations

While some measures such as curbs on e-scooters are expected to win unanimous approval, it’s unclear how much support there would be for a ban on smoking while driving in Italy.

Almost one quarter of the Italian adult population smokes, according to World Health Organisation data, at 23 percent – slightly above the EU average. 

However Italy’s smoking rate is lower than that in many other large European countries.

A blanket ban would mean Italy had the toughest rules on smoking while driving a private vehicle of any European nation.

At the moment, lighting up in the car is only illegal in Italy if you’re with anyone who is under 18 or pregnant.

Under a law introduced in 2016, drivers or passengers can be fined between 50 and 500 euros if caught smoking in a vehicle with pregnant women or children under the age of twelve. A lesser fine of 25 to 250 euros applies if 12-17 year olds are in the car.

Similar rules are in place in several European countries including Austria, France, Greece, Finland and the UK, though none have a complete ban on smoking at the wheel.

Reader question: Will my UK driving licence still be valid in Italy after 2021?

Many US states and Canadian provinces also forbid smoking with minors present, with varying age limits.

Several countries worldwide do have a total ban in place, including Argentina, Armenia, Jordan and Iran.

The Netherlands, Germany and Poland are also considering the possible introduction of a complete smoking ban in vehicles, reports Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

While people often think that smoking while driving would be illegal in many more countries, the UK’s AA describes the assumption that you can’t legally smoke and drive as “a popular driving myth”.

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DRIVING

Driving in Italy: What is a ‘Telepass’ and how do you use it?

If you drive in Italy, you'll likely see large yellow 'Telepass' signs on motorways and at car parks. Here's everything you need to know about using the transport pass.

Driving in Italy: What is a 'Telepass' and how do you use it?

Getting around Italy by car might not be the most sustainable mode of transport, but for those hard-to-reach places and medieval hilltop villages, a private set of wheels is sometimes a necessity.

READ ALSO: ‘Expect the unexpected’: What you need to know about driving in Italy

Plus, if you’re a resident in a remote location, public transport may be sparse or even non-existent.

Whatever your reason for driving around Italy, you’ll likely spot the so-called ‘Telepass’ scheme at motorway toll points and in car parks.

It can be a handy, faster and cheaper way to use Italy’s roads and parking spaces – and it’s expanded to cover more travel services like taxis and trains too.

Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the system, whether you’re a visitor or a resident.

What is a Telepass?

Italy’s motorways are a network of toll roads. How much you pay depends on how much of the motorway you use, calculated by where you enter and exit.

You can take a ticket and pay when you exit the motorway, or you can use a Telepass.

The Telepass is best known as a device that you stick in your vehicle, which lets you pass through motorway tolls without queuing or the need to stop and pay with cash or card.

If you have the device, you can drive to dedicated lanes where the sign is displayed and you’ll see yellow lines and sometimes a yellow ‘T’ on the road. You can drive right through once you hear the beep on the device.

That sound means your entry or exit has been registered and the barrier will lift allowing you to pass through.

The Telepass allows quick entry and exit of motorways. (Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP)

How do you get a Telepass?

You pay a monthly subscription for the device, starting from around €1 per month – although some plans offer the first six months for free, while the charges you incur while driving will be added to that fee.

Check the Telepass website here for details of current offers and pricing plans. 

You can sign up via the website, or the app, through which you’ll also make payments and keep track of your subscription and expenses.

Offers available via the app appear to require customers to provide a phone number registered in Italy, France, Germany, the US or the UK.

Once you sign up, the Telepass can be sent out to your home address. You can also choose to pick it up from a Telepass point, located at gas stations around Italy.

If you don’t want to pay monthly, for example if you’re just visiting Italy, there is a pay-as-you-go option too with a one-off activation charge of €10.

Where can you use a Telepass?

As well as for motorway access, you can also use the Telepass for various other things such paying for ferry tickets, parking, and congestion charges such as those in Milan’s ‘Area C’ traffic restricted area.

In car parks and on some street parking, you may see the Telepass function displayed in its usual blue and yellow signage.

If you see this sign, it means you can go towards the barrier, you’ll hear the beep and you can enter the car park. On exiting, the exact time you’ve spent there will be calculated and charged.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How do you dispute a parking ticket in Italy?

A motorway toll showing cash, card and Telepass lanes. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

You may also see them at airports when you go to drop off or pick up passengers – and again, in some of their car parks too.

The same system applies, where your time will be automatically calculated and you can enter and exit without a ticket or paying at a machine.

If you have the Telepass app, you can also use it for everything from paying for car hire and train tickets to paying for fuel or bike sharing schemes.

For a full list of the services, in English, see here.

There is also a European version of the Telepass which can be used similarly in France, Spain and Portugal. There are plans to expand its use to additional European countries in future.

“The Europe device gives you access to the Autostrada in Europa service so you will be able to travel freely by car or motorcycle without barriers or borders,” the official website says.

You can sign up for this service for a €6 activation fee, with usage charged monthly. Find more details about it here.

Are there any alternatives to the Telepass?

The Telepass system has enjoyed its monopoly within Italy for more than 30 years, but just a few weeks ago a rival competitor launched a similar product – Unipol’s ‘UnipolMove’.

It replicates the Telepass function by means of a device – again, a type of small box that you put in your car or on a motorbike.

The UnipolMove allows automatic payment of motorway tolls through dedicated lanes and an ID system that communicates with the barrier, just like the Telepass.

Paying for the device and charges are currently restricted to Italian IBAN numbers though, so the Telepass currently has wider appeal for international drivers.

READ ALSO: How visitors to Italy can avoid driving penalties

Unipol’s packages aren’t yet as diverse as those of the Telepass, as you may expect. Due to its recent launch, there is only one type of contract for the UnipolMove, whereas Telepass offers various packages.

The monthly fee is competitive at €1 per month, but at the moment it’s free for the first six months.

This new product also offers other services aside from motorway tolls, such as car parking and congestion charge functions.

For more details on the new UnipolMove, currently only in Italian, see here.

For more information on driving around Italy, visit our travel section for the latest updates.

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