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Italy Orders Alternate-Day Driving to Try to Cut Down on Pollution

December 27, 1991

ROME (AP) _ Major Italian cities are betting they can lower dangerous winter pollution levels by limiting the number of cars on the road - odd numbered license plates one day, even the next.

This government game of auto roulette runs counter to Italians view of driving as a divine right, and has kept police busy writing up thousands of citations.

At least 11 Italian cities have imposed alternate-day driving rules this winter on high pollution days, including Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin.

Venice even ordered restrictions on the motorboats plying its canals. The lagoon city’s old-fashioned, hand-paddled gondolas are exempt, however.

Some motorists have tried to evade the odd-even rule by using paint, tape or mud to cover or alter the last number on their plates. Such dodges reflect the traditional flouting of traffic laws in a country where most sidewalks double as parking lots, where the right-of-way on chaotic streets appears to be determined by courage alone.

But losing at the latest traffic game can be costly. Fines range from $44 for driving around with the wrong plate to $888 for altering plates.

One day alone this month, police in Rome wrote a record 12,983 such citations.

Environment Minister Giorgio Ruffolo is behind the restrictions. He has pressured the cities to reduce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which cause health risks and eat away at public monuments.

Ruffolo maintains rigid odd-and-even enforcement can lower pollution levels 20 to 30 percent.

Italians aren’t so sure.

″The only effect is there is less traffic, fewer people moving around, fewer customers for the shops,″ complained Hebe Koifmann, the owner of a leather goods store in Rome.

Many Italians with two cars can defeat the rules if the cars have odd and even plates. Others arrange to borrow a car with the correct plate. Thousands obtain exemptions because of work or political clout.

″It is a useless, temporary measure to combat pollution,″ said Maurizio Cortessi, a Roman taxi driver. ″But it has been good for taxi drivers.″

Italy has been slow to impose long-term measures. Only one car in 100 has a catalytic converter that allows it to burn less polluting unleaded gasoline.

Under European Community regulations all cars sold after Jan. 1, 1993, will have the converter. But old cars will still spew noxious fumes, and the average Italian car is on the road for 14 years.

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