The arrival of the euro caused lengthy tailbacks at motorway toll booths across Italy on Sunday, as motorists were given change in the new single European currency, dramatically slowing the flow of traffic.

Regardless of whether customers paid in lire or euros, the firm operating Italy's highway network, Autostrade, gave all drivers change in the single European currency.

Complicated cross-checks to ensure the calculations were correct meant cars spent longer at the toll booths than normal.

Traffic police reported lines of three miles and more at some busy intersections, such as the northern arrival gateway into Rome, as slow till work took its toll.

An Autostrade spokesman said that many people appeared to take advantage of the company's initiative to try to get hold of the new money, with many more drivers than normal paying cash rather using more speedy credit card checkouts.

Euro notes and coins became legal tender at midnight on January 1, but many bank cash machines are not yet loaded with the currency, frustrating some peoples' efforts to get their hands on the new money.

Autostrade said that it handed over some 11 billion lire ($5 million) worth of euro change during the day before running out of the cash in late evening.

Like many European countries, Italy charges drivers for using its motorways, with toll booths set up at highway exit and entry points.