Italy is a great summer destination, bringing together amazing weather, world-famous food, and countless cultural treasures. If you hire a car in Italy for the summer, there are some things you should know, the most important of which is that there's a thing called the ZTL that you should keep an eye out for. Nothing gets foreign drivers fined more quickly in Italy than accidentally wandering into a ZTL.
ZTL stands for Zona a Traffico Limitato, and it's an area in the centre of the city in which traffic is not allowed (except for residential traffic or public transportation). ZTLs are common in many Italian cities and towns, namely Florence, Rome and Pisa. The ZTL is usually indicated by signs and traffic cameras at the entrance, though after you enter the area, you may see no other indications that you should not be driving there.
Sometimes it's easy to miss the fact that you're entering a ZTL because other cars are driving that way, or because you're following the instructions of a GPS (which may not recognize that a certain area is a ZTL, as it will simply lead you through the shortest route to your destination).
After you enter a ZTL, you may get fined every time you go through a traffic camera, which may result in several fines in a short period of time. If you get fined while driving your rental, you should be aware most car rental suppliers will charge you an administrative fee on top of each fine.
Some travellers feel that the ZTL is designed to trap tourists, who may not be aware of its limits or even that it exists, but it is actually aimed at protecting the historical centre of Italian cities, by reducing the flow of traffic which negatively impacts the area and by reducing pollution. This helps reduce degradation of those areas, and promotes a safer and healthier environment for locals and tourists alike.
The traffic sign indicating the beginning of a ZTL is a red circle with a white centre, headed by expression "Zona a Traffico Limitato". Below the main sign, there will also be smaller signs with additional information specific to that ZTL, such as hours during which the prohibition is enforced, or exceptions.
As a rule of thumb, simply trying to avoid driving through the centre of most cities should help you stay clear of accidentally entering a ZTL.