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Driving in Austria – what are the rules?

Brilliant scenery, friendly people and exciting cities – Austria is a hidden gem. Here’s what to check, for you and your car, before you drive there.

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If you like driving through mountain passes but aren’t too bothered about coastal roads, then Austria could be your next touring destination. This landlocked state in central Europe is surrounded by mountains – indeed it lies in the eastern Alps region.

Completely surrounded by other countries, there’s not a coastline in sight. Germany lies to its north west, Italy is to the south while eastern European countries such as Hungary and Slovakia also border it.

It must feel like a safe haven, with its protected location, and this ‘security’ filters through – Austria is an especially safe place to live and visit, with low crime levels, polite people and good air quality.

There’s lots of business going on in Austria too, with its major cities such as Vienna, Salzburg and Graz offering huge opportunities for industry and commerce.

While Austria isn’t necessarily the first country on a touring holidaymaker’s list, it is certainly worth considering, and thousands of tourists from Europe take to the roads and drive there every year.

And if you are one of the UK motorists who does choose Austrian roads when it comes to planning a vacation, you’ll need some careful organisation before going there. Getting there by car will involve traversing the whole of Germany but that’s a decent European drive to enjoy if you have the time. Flying in and hiring a vehicle is another option.

Driving in Austria is a completely different experience from doing so in the UK. And that isn’t just because the Austrians drive on a different side of the road from us.

It’s much more than that and planning a driving holiday, or taking your car to Austria on business, requires careful planning and a good understanding of what you can, and can’t do behind the wheel while on Tyrolean (or other Austrian region) roads.

This isn’t just for your safety and convenience. Getting on the wrong side of the Austrian police can mean on-the-spot fines and even confiscation of your car and its contents. So it’s well worth spending some time planning your trip, and making sure you have everything in place for your Continental excursion.

Here The Car Expert looks at the most important elements to consider when planning to drive in Austria, and we’ve included a handy checklist. As each journey is unique, always check that you have everything covered for your particular visit.

Basic rules

You must be 18 years or over to drive in Austria and you should hold a full UK driving licence. Just the licence card will do, as the paper counterpart is no longer a requirement. An international driving permit is recognised by the authorities, but not necessary.

You’ll need to prove that you have car insurance cover so take your certificate with you (but you don’t need a European ‘green card’) and you must carry with you documents that show the identity of the car, such as a V5 ‘logbook’. Always carry your personal ID or passport with you too.

The vehicle’s ‘home country’ must be shown on it. A ‘UK’ sticker is one good way to do this but you can also show a small UK badge on both number plates if you wish. The ‘GB’ badge is no longer allowed, even within European ‘golden stars’ and the same goes for country badges such as the English, Scottish or Welsh flags.

Speed limits

Speed limits are shown in kilometres (km/h) rather than miles (mph). In built-up areas the speed limit varies between 30 km/h and 50 km/h so watch out for local roadside signs. Moving out of built-up areas and onto more open roads the limit rises to 100 km/h. These can also change though, according to local signs. Motorways have a blanket 130 km/h limit.

You are not allowed any kind of speed camera detection devices or equipment that could interfere with police cameras when driving on Austrian roads. The police will take these away and you could also be handed a 4000 Euro fine. However, you are allowed to use satnav units with the camera detection built-in.

If you are stopped for speeding in Austria you will likely get an on the spot fine. These vary depending on your speed and the road you were caught on. Fines start at 30 Euro for a minor transgression of less than 20 km/h over the speed limit and rise steadily in severity as the offence worsens. Get stopped at more than 40 km/h over the limit in a built-up area and you could be looking at a 2,180 Euro fine plus a driving licence suspension of six weeks.

Dashboard cameras (dashcams) are not permitted. And don’t use a mobile phone while driving unless it is ‘hands-free’.

Blood alcohol limits

We don’t recommend any drinking of alcohol if you are going to drive but it’s worth knowing the limits. The drink drive limit is 0.5 g/l (also shown as 0.05%) although for new drivers with less than two years’ experience, it’s 0.1 g/l (0.01%). By comparison, it’s 0.8 g/l (0.08%) in England and Wales.

If the police suspect you have been drinking you’ll be asked to take a breath test. There are fines for recording a positive test but if it’s more than 0.8 g/l your driving licence will be confiscated and you could be banned from driving in Austria.

What to carry in the car

There are several things you’ll need in your vehicle while motoring through Austria, to ensure you keep on the right side of the authorities. These include a reflective jacket or waistcoat which you must wear if you break down on a major route outside of urban areas. You will also be required to have a warning triangle and a first aid kit.

You don’t have to carry spare bulbs, but the police do insist that you have beam deflectors (or the ability to manually adjust your lights) to avoid dazzling other road users. If visibility is poor, the police will expect you to be driving with dipped beams. Failure to do this can attract a €30 fine.

Specialist suppliers, such as motoring organisations, sell ‘European driving kits’ for around £25, which contain everything you are likely to need for a Continental road trip, and it’s well worth investing in one.

Seatbelt and other rules

Seatbelt rules are the same as in the UK: if your car has them, they must be worn. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure everyone is buckled up and there’s a €35 fine for failing to wear one.

Children under 14 years old and less than 150 cm in height must be in an approved child seat in the front or back of the car. Under-14s who are over 150 cm tall may use adult seat belts.

Driving

Keep to the right-hand lane as much as possible but if you are overtaking do so on the left.

Austria’s capital, Vienna, has one of the largest tram systems in the world and its people are proud of the service, as they are with the rest of the public transport structure. You can overtake trams but do it at walking pace and only if you are not going to hinder passengers. Ensure also that there is at least 1.5 metres of space between you and the tram.

Trams and any vehicles on rails have priority on the road, as do emergency vehicles. Do not overtake anything that is moving near a pedestrian crossing and don’t be tempted to stray over a continuous solid white line. Drivers must stop at a pedestrian crossing if there is someone on it or it looks like they are about to use it.

Traffic signals are red, amber and green and follow a similar pattern to the UK. However, a flashing green light means that the ‘go’ phase is about to end so drivers should prepare to stop.

Horns should be used sparingly – indeed they are prohibited in Vienna and around any hospitals, unless in an emergency.

Petrol, diesel, and biofuel is widely available throughout the country, plus there are thousands of electric vehicle (EV) charging points. Austrian services do not have automatic petrol pumps.

Austria is a mountainous country with beautiful climbs and descents. If two cars meet on a narrow pass, both should stop and the one that can reverse more easily to a passing space should do so, as there is no firm priority ruling.

Motorways in Austria are paid for with money collected through tolls. Austria has a system called ‘Maut Vignette’ which features a sticker in the car’s windscreen to prove the toll has been paid. There is also an electronic version linked to the car’s number plate but as a foreign visitor you probably won’t have this.

It costs €9.90 for ten days of motorway use, €29 for two months and €96.40 for one year. If you are caught on an Austrian motorway without a Vignette you can expect an on the spot fine of €120. Failure to pay this will mean court proceedings where the fine is likely to rise to €300 or more. There are also additional tolls to use some of the big tunnels and alpine roads found throughout Austria.

If you are towing a trailer or caravan ensure that your car and the rig don’t exceed 18.75 metres in length, 4 metres in height and 2.55 metres in width. Make sure you can see clearly behind you with the use of two wide rear-view mirrors.

Parking

Look for parking restriction signs before you pull up anywhere. Most cities will have restrictions and fees to pay before parking. In many regions you can use your phone to pay while other areas use pre-paid parking vouchers. Parking for 15 minutes is usually free but you still have to fill in a ‘free of charge’ voucher.

There are areas where you can park for free, but don’t leave your car if it looks like you’re causing an obstruction and, if visibility is poor, you should leave your side lights on.

Illegally parked cars will be clamped by the authorities unless they are obstructing traffic – in which case they will be towed away. There will be a fine to pay for a vehicle’s release plus costs for the towing.

Emergency assistance in Austria

Austrian motorways have a system of emergency stopping places called ‘rettungsgasse’ (rescue lane) for cars in trouble. In Austria as with most of Europe, you can dial 112 and make contact with emergency services such as fire, ambulance or police, 24 hours a day. Operators will speak English, French and other European languages.

Checklist for driving in Austria

Must haves:

  • Driving licence
  • Passport
  • Vehicle insurance
  • MOT certificate
  • V5 or vehicle ID
  • UK sticker or number plate markings
  • Warning triangle
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Hi-viz jackets
  • First aid kit

Options:

  • Spare bulb kit
  • Screen wash
  • Bottled water
  • Map or satnav
  • Phone power bank
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Torch
  • Fuel can

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.