The roads signs are not often in English, so you can easily miss exits, take the wrong one and just become hopelessly lost. Austria is no exception.
However, driving can be the best way to see parts of the country that are inaccessible by public transport and therefore off the well-worn tourist track. Small towns where you have that authentic cultural experience with locals without paying through the nose to do so or waiting in a two-hour queue.
While Austria is a highly developed and stable country with an excellent network of roadways, there are some local idiosyncrasies to be mindful of when driving through it.
These are, basically, a pre-paid toll sticker that is placed on the windscreen of the car. All of the freeways (autobahn), federal highways (Bundesstraße) and expressways (Schnellstraßen) in Austria are cashless and the stickers, called "Vignette" are required by all drivers in order to use the motorways.
They don't cost much - Just under nine Euros for 10 days, but the advice of travelers is this "don't go to Austria without one", and that includes driving through borders into the country.
The local police conduct regular checks on all vehicles and issue very expensive on-the-spot fines for motorists not displaying a Vignette. The police officers speak fluent English so there is no "lost in translation" moment when they are issuing the hefty fine, and you're handing over the wads of Euros you were preparing to spend on other things, like Austrian beer and the Sound of Music tour!
Don't try and dodge it. For peace of mind, purchase a Vignette at any petrol station, tobacconist (Tabak), automobile association, post office and border crossings.
For further information go to http://www.asfinag.at/en
If your vehicle happens to be bigger than 3.5 tonne, you will need another toll device if you plan to use the motorways and expressways. This is most likely travelers with motor homes or motor caravans. It's called a 'GO-Box' and is also attached to the windscreen of your vehicle. With a five Euro registration cost, and either post pay or pre pay options, it's money well spent.
For further information go to http://www.go-maut.at.
Being in the middle of Western Europe, Austria has mild summers and bone rattling cold winters. But it's the snow-capped Alps that make for such stunning landscapes and fantastic skiing.
During the winter the roads in alpine areas can become dangerous due to snow, ice, and avalanches. Some mountain roads may be closed for extended periods. Between November 1 and April 15, it is mandatory to use winter tyres. All-season tyres comply if they carry the M S mark and have at least 4mm of tread. In addition, snow chains maybe made compulsory by local police during or after heavy snowfall.
Like other road laws in Austria, non-compliance results in a hefty fine and in this case suspension of the vehicle. And you may find your insurance is null and void if the car you are driving is involved in an accident during this season without winter tyres.
Austria's roads and freeways are second to none (except maybe neighbours Germany!) and are often being maintained and extended. As a result there can be autobahn construction zones, particularly on the A-1 East/West Autobahn. Reduced lanes and two-way traffic in these zones have resulted in many fatal accidents in recent years.
In 2013 the European Union recorded an average road fatality rate of 52 per million inhabitants in the EU. Austria itself, falls just above the average with 54 road related deaths per million inhabitants - almost double the amount of the Uk or Sweden, who are the leaders in road safety!
For information on road conditions, tune into English radio channel fm4, between 91 and 105 FM, depending on the location you are in.
What is also a noticeable difference between German and Austrian roads is the signage. While the German signs guide drivers every step of the way, sometimes with English subtitles, Austrian signs can leave a foreigner confused and bewildered. Get a map or follow a local!
To drive in Austria you will need an international driver's license. If you are in the country for more than six months you will need to get an Austrian license.
Like most western countries, drink driving is illegal and the punishment is significant. The minimum fine is approximately 360 Euros, and the loss of driver's license. The maximum limit of blood-alcohol level is 0.05.
When obtaining a rental vehicle, read the fine print of the contract about where you can take the car. Many rental companies prohibit drivers from taking rental cars into Eastern European countries. If you do, and get caught, the ramifications are extreme. You can be arrested, fined and/or charged with attempted vehicle theft. At the least, the Austrian police are authorised to hold the vehicle for the rental company, leaving you car-less.
And those are legitimate police, Austrian authorities warn tourist drivers traveling on the autobahn in Lower Austria about bogus police in "plain clothes" wearing a baseball cap marked Polizei. They drive unmarked cars with a flashing electronic sign in the back window that says "Stopp", "Polizei" and "Folgen" (follow). All highway/traffic police in Austria wear uniform, and plain-clothes officers identify themselves without being asked. If you are pulled over and not sure, call the emergency number 133.
Be careful where you park, particularly in the major cities of Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg. The signage can be unclear and even if you think you are parking legitimately, where other cars are parked, it could be a bus lane or restricted area. And the result when you come back after four hours wandering the city... a fine and a towed car!
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