HomeWorld‘It’s unfathomable’: speed hump saboteurs join Italy’s pro-car vandals

‘It’s unfathomable’: speed hump saboteurs join Italy’s pro-car vandals


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Renzo Bergamini, the mayor of Gualtieri, was on his way to buy the newspapers on Tuesday morning when he noticed something was amiss with one of the two speed humps positioned on the town’s ring road.

“I saw that the sections of the hump were slightly misaligned,” he said. “The bolts had been unscrewed.”

The Emilia-Romagna town had been struck overnight by Dossoman, one of several speed hump saboteurs who sprung up this week in the wake of the rapidly spreading Fleximan phenomenon, involving enigmatic figures who have been tearing down speed cameras across the country.

Dosso is the Italian word for speed hump, while Fleximan derives from the Italian world for angle grinder, flessibile, the weapon of choice for the destruction of speed cameras due to its capacity for ripping through in seconds the metal poles on which they are perched.

“I can understand why speed cameras would be targeted because they generate fines, but wasn’t expecting it with speed humps too. It’s unfathomable,” said Bergamini, who suspects Gualtieri’s Dossoman came from out of town.

A Dossoman also paid an overnight visit to Calderara di Reno, a town near Bologna, where he left his green spray-painted signature beside a destroyed speed hump. The town’s mayor, Giampiero Falzone, didn’t mince his words. “He’s an imbecile,” he said. “First we had Fleximan, now Dossoman. Will traffic lights be the next target? These people are vandals, criminals, and need be condemned.”

The avengers have struck a nerve in a country where people are renowned for driving fast, but which also has the highest number of speed cameras in Europe.

The original Fleximan began waging his campaign last year, destroying at least 15 speed cameras across the Veneto region within eight months. The as-yet unidentified person became a hero to some on social media, where he was lauded as a modern-day Robin Hood among drivers who consider the cameras to be money-making rackets for local authorities. A street mural appeared in Padua, Veneto, depicting the vigilante as the yellow-tracksuit clad assassin played by Uma Thurman in the film Kill Bill holding a sword in one hand and a speed camera in the other.

The mural in Padua depicting Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill holding a speed camera. Photograph: Ferdinando Piezzi/Alamy

A copycat Fleximan in his 50s, who had operated in the Piedmont region, was identified by police last week. Since then, their numbers have proliferated. In one town in Liguria, 11 newly installed cameras were torn down within 24 hours. Cameras in Puglia, in southern Italy, have also been targeted.

Police have installed surveillance cameras to try to ensnare the perpetrators, but the phenomenon has been growing so fast they are struggling to close in.

Local councils have the power to decide how many cameras to erect in their towns and cities. “Some mayors position them on roads that are considered dangerous, while others put them everywhere just so they can balance the books,” said Domenico Musicco, the head of Avisl, an association for road accident victims. “Some authorities have made a lot of money out of the fines. Some drivers see this as an indirect tax. They are exasperated by all the fines and so see the Fleximen as heroes who are finally getting rid of a menace.”

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and transport minister, said last year that a national norm for speed cameras would be introduced as part of his overhaul of the highway code. “There would need to be more precision over where they are placed, such as on dangerous roads, and they must not be used only to generate fines,” said Musicco.

The number of speeding tickets being handed out to drivers has been on the rise, according to the Italian consumer group Codacons. In 2022, Florence received the most in fines, €22m (£19m), followed by Milan and Genoa.

They may be heroes to some, but the saboteurs’ critics point to Italy’s high number of road deaths: 3,159 people were killed on the roads in 2022, almost double the number in Spain and the UK.

“Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor; Fleximan steals lives,” Luca Valdiserri, a journalist with Corriere della Sera, wrote in an editorial. “There is nothing heroic in what the new symbol of selfishness is doing in a society which, step by step, is losing empathy and respect for the lives of others.”

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