If you’ve ever been to Italy, you may well have come across police checkpoints. They can be set up anywhere, at any time, and without any warning. These roadside checkpoints are usually manned by submachine gun toting cops sporting bullet proof jackets. They can be rather intimidating.
Today, a 17 year old youth was shot dead by police. Press reports in Italy are saying that the youth failed to stop at a police checkpoint, the police are claiming that the gun which killed the teenager went off accidentally. Investigations should reveal the truth. Such incidents are rare in Italy. Remember though: Italy’s police are armed.
As you may know, I live in Italy. When I had a car, I came across these police checkpoints quite often though I was never stopped. Once, though, while I was on foot, I was stopped by the police in Italy. My documents were checked and I was soon on my way. If you are in a car, you may be ‘lollipopped’ though. If this happens, what should you do? By the way, the ‘lollipop’ is what Italy’s police wave at drivers when they want them to stop.
Here are a few tips which should help ensure you’ll be back on your way a few minutes after you have been stopped. The chance that Italy’s police will stop you is relatively low, but it does exist.
First of all, don’t panic! It is unlikely you are being stopped for a specific reason, so don’t worry. Some of these checkpoints are routine and the police are not looking for anyone or anything in particular. On the other hand, checkpoints may be set up after a crime has been committed in which case the police manning them are likely to be more alert to anything suspicious.
By the way, if the police smell alcohol on your breath, you may be asked to blow into a alcohol level meter. If you are over legal limit, you will be in trouble. As in other nations, don’t drink and drive.
Oh, if you have recently robbed a bank, do panic! 😉 If you try to run the checkpoint, expect major problems and, possibly, high-speed lead.
At any and all of these checkpoints in Italy, be polite and comply with the requests of the police officer who will probably know some English. Be arrogant or aggressive and your checkpoint pause may last much longer than you thought it might. From my own experience, Italy’s police are polite and professional.
If you show signs of impatience, this could be interpreted as being an indication that you have something to hide. In this case, your car may be searched. Everything will be pulled out and examined. Questions may follow. This could seriously disrupt your travel plans, especially if you have to catch a plane or take a ferry. In the event this happens, keep calm, cooperate, and with a little luck, despite the search, you’ll still make that ferry or flight.
Carry Your Documents at All Times
The policeman will ask to see your documents. You will probably be asked for your driving licence, plus some form of identification (a passport is fine). Your adult passengers, if you have any, may also be asked for their identification documents. Italians have to carry official ID cards with photographs at all times. Foreigners in Italy are expected to do the same.
The police may also want to see documents relating to the ownership and insurance of the vehicle you are travelling in. Hire/rental cars should come with all the necessary documentation which can often be found in the glovebox. Don’t forget to put the documents back in your car after taking them up to your hotel room for safekeeping.
At times, police officers may check to ensure you are carrying certain items which drivers in Italy are required to carry with them at all times.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
If you come to Italy in your own car, check with a motoring organisation in your nation what you will need to bring with you. A warning triangle and reflective warning vest/waistcoat are required by Italian law, as is a headlamp adjustment kit. The UK’s Automobile Association has a document detailing the compulsory equipment you should carry when driving in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. It can be downloaded from the page you will reach after clicking here: Compulsory equipment
Check too whether your diving licence is valid in Italy. An International Driving Permit may be required. Your insurance papers will need to be in order as well.
Note that radar detectors are forbidden in Italy so expect problems if you are pulled over and the police spot your little electronic friend.
No Documents, No Car
If you do not have the necessary documents, or there are other problems, your vehicle could be confiscated. That would spoil your break in Italy, wouldn’t it? Make sure you carry your documents with you are all times – even if you only go for a short drive from where you are staying.
While it is a little unlikely, you might see a stunning Italian police Lamborghini like the one in the photo below at a checkpoint.
If you see one of these police cars and you ask nicely, you will probably be allowed to take a “me and the police Lambo selfie”!
Remember those documents!
A Document Checklist
Here are the documents you should keep with you are all times when travelling in Italy by car, motorcycle, or any other vehicle, for that matter:
- Driving licence.
- Identification documents – with a photograph – for the driver and all adult passengers – passport or Italian ID card, if you have one.
- Insurance documents.
- Vehicle ownership documents.
Photocopies are not acceptable.
Have you ever been stopped at a police checkpoint in Italy? If so, let us know how it went via a comment.
“Lamborghini Polizia” by Adriano – http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immagine:Lamborghini_Polizia.JPG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.