Italian cities to outlaw scooters

ITALY'S CITIES may soon find themselves deprived of one of their defining features, but it is not crumbling ruins or leaning towers that are under threat.

In a radical move to cut benzene levels in the polluted urban atmosphere, the environment ministry has drawn up legislation to ban motor vehicles in 23 cities where limits are regularly exceeded: trucks and cars will be confined to garages and - the bitterest blow of all - so will mopeds and scooters.

Since Audrey Hepburn hopped gracefully on to the back of Gregory Peck's Vespa in the film Roman Holiday, the whining, whizzing scooter has been synonymous with Italy. But what is an essential prop for film- makers and a colourful extra for tourists defying death to cross a street is also, the ministry says, a major source of the benzenes blamed for 50 out of every 1,000 cases of leukemia. While two-wheelers account for only one-quarter of the vehicles on Italy's roads, they emit 41 per cent of the deadly carcinogen.

The draft decree, which is intended to take effect next June, brings accepted levels of benzenes down from 15 micrograms per cubic metre to 10. It also forces Italy's 23 largest cities to install benzene-measuring devices in the most polluted areas, and to ban all vehicles without the latest generation of catalytic converters if levels exceed the limit by five micrograms.

This means many cities, most of the time. In downtown Rome, levels are permanently well above 20 micrograms. In Naples, private vehicles are already banned in the centre on two days each week.