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TRANSPORT

Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria

Unlike Germany, Austria already has a speed limit on motorways, but that’s not the only rule that motorists should be aware of.

Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria
The weekend will be a busy one in Austrian streets and roads. Photo by GUENTER SCHIFFMANN / AFP.

Austria might be neighbours with Germany but that doesn’t mean they share the same rules when it comes to driving on a motorway (autobahn).

In fact, there is a strict speed limit in Austria, as well as other rules regarding road tax and environmental factors.

Then there are debates surrounding the reduction of the current national speed limit in a bid to lower the consumption of Russian oil.

To make sure you’re up to date and following the rules, here’s what you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria.

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What is the speed limit on the autobahn in Austria?

In Austria, the national speed limit on the motorway for motorbikes and cars is 130 km/h (81 mph), unless stated otherwise. For vehicles with a light trailer, the national speed limit is 100 km/h.

There are varying speed limits for vehicles with larger trailers or those with a heavy weight and there is also a speed limit of 60 km/h for certain trucks when driving at night.

This means Austria does not have long stretches of motorway without speed limits like in neighbouring Germany.

There have been discussions in the past about raising the speed limit to 140 km/h on Austrian motorways, with particular interest from the Freedom Party Austria (FPÖ). 

So far though, there are no indications that the speed limit will be raised and, if anything, there are calls to go in the opposite direction (see below for more).

READ ALSO: What you need to know about parking in Austria

Is there a tax for using the autobahn?

Austrian motorways operate on a vignette system which is a prepaid road tax issued as either a physical sticker for the windscreen or digitally.

Vignettes can be purchased at outlets across the country, such as petrol stations, service stations and some tourist information offices.

A vignette can be purchased for 10 days, two months or on an annual basis. For drivers that regularly use motorways in Austria, the annual ticket is the most economical option at €93.80 for a car or €37.20 for a motorbike (2022 prices).

Prices for the vignette are set by the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology. The Motorway and Expressway Finance Company (ASFINAG) is responsible for issuing vignettes.

Compliance with the vignette is monitored through the use of control cameras on Austrian motorways. For cars or camper vans with no or an expired vignette, the fine is €120. For motorbikes the fine is €65.

If anyone is caught with a tampered toll sticker, the fine is €240 for a car or campervan and €130 for a motorbike.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Austria’s vignette motorway toll stickers

The political climate and the impact on driving

Greenpeace Austria recently called for the national speed limit on the Autobahn to be reduced to 100 km/h to save on fuel and emissions, as reported by the Kronen Zeitung.

The announcement follows EU sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine and debates within western governments on how to wean themselves off a dependency on Russia oil and gas.

According to Greenpeace, lowering the speed limit would reduce our usage of petrol and diesel as driving at a lower speed uses less fuel. This would then help towards reducing the amount of oil Austria needs to source from Russia.

READ MORE: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

Clara Schenk from Greenpeace Austria told Ö1 Morgenjournal that lowering the speed limit would have a “measurable impact” on Austria’s fuel consumption.

This was echoed by Johannes Wahlmüller from GLOBAL 2000 who said: “In principle, reducing the speed is a very simple and inexpensive measure to both save CO2 emissions and reduce fuel consumption. 

“If you drive at 100 km/h on the autobahn, you use around ten percent less fuel than at 130 km/h.” 

The principle arguments in favour of reducing the speed limit are that it is easy to implement, can save motorists money and can lead to quick results.

In fact, a 100 km/h speed limit is already in place on some roads when the air quality requires it, such as on the A1 Westautobahn between Linz and Vienna and on the A12 in Tyrol.

But on a national level, such a move could be politically hard to impose and there are calls to lower tax on fuel instead to combat rising prices. Motorist clubs ARBÖ and ÖAMTC support this approach, as well as the Chamber of Labour, the Chamber of Commerce, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the Freedom Party Austria (FPÖ).

What is the situation elsewhere in Europe?

Germany is known around the world as a country with relaxed motorway rules when it comes to speed, but discussions surrounding a national speed limit have picked up pace in recent years.

In a 2021 survey by public broadcaster ARD, 60 percent of Germans believed there should be a speed limit of 130 km/h on German motorways. Only 38 percent said there should be no speed limit.

The main reason for this was environmental with many people saying they would be willing to lower their driving speed on motorways to reduce emissions.

In the past week, both Greenpeace Germany and Environmental Action Germany have again raised the issue of introducing a speed limit on motorways, but this time to reduce the consumption of Russian oil, as well as emissions.

They claim that a reduction in speed could save 3.7 billion litres of petrol and diesel, as well as 9.2 million tonnes of CO2.

Useful vocabulary

Autobahn – motorway

Vignette – road toll/tax

Tankstelle – petrol station

Tempolimit – speed limit

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DRIVING

Everything you need to know about driving in Austria in winter

Austria is known for having long, cold winters, which can impact conditions on the roads. Here’s what you need to know about driving in Austria in the winter. From tips to make your trip smoother to the rules you need to follow.

Everything you need to know about driving in Austria in winter

Austria’s infrastructure is built for winter weather. As soon as the temperature starts to drop overnight, gritting trucks are out in force, and roads are quickly cleared of snow during winter storms.

This makes driving in Austria during the winter months so much easier, but there are a few rules to follow as well.

Here’s everything you need to know about driving in Austria in the winter.

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Winter tyres

In Austria, all cars and lorries weighing up to 3.5 tonnes must be fitted with winter tyres from November 1 to April 15 of the following year. This is to ensure drivers are prepared for wintry conditions on the roads, such as snow and ice.

A driver can be fined €35 if caught driving without winter tyres during this time. If other road users are put in danger as a result, the fine can be up to €5,000.

The law also has consequences for insurance claims in the event of an accident while driving in the winter with summer tyres. For example, if there is a crash but the driver claims it wasn’t their fault, they have to prove that the accident would have still happened even with winter tyres to avoid blame. They then have the so-called “burden of proof”. 

Also, a tyre only qualifies as an official winter tyre (or all-season tyre) if it has one of the following labels: M+S, M.S., M&S or the snowflake symbol. 

READ ALSO: Can I use my foreign driving licence in Austria?

Snow chains and spike tyres

Between November 1 and April 15, all lorries (with a maximum weight of more than 3.5 tonnes) and all buses must carry snow chains for at least two wheels.

But the snow chains should only be used when absolutely necessary. Such as when a road is covered with snow or ice.

The use of studded tyres is illegal in Austria during the months of June, July, August and September. And if you want to use them in the winter, you need to display a studded tyre sticker (Spikeaufkleber) in the rear of the vehicle.

Spike tyres are only typically fitted on industrial or agricultural vehicles, and are not often used on Austrian roads as they can damage the surface.

Removal of snow and ice from the car

In Austria, drivers are required to clear all windows of snow and ice before driving. In fact, only clearing a small “viewing window” is illegal and can impact an insurance claim if there is an accident.

Drivers also have to clear snow from the lights and licence plate, including on a trailer. And it’s recommended to remove snow or ice from the top of a car as it can fall across the windshield while driving.

READ MORE: The story of how half of Austria drove on the left and half on the right – for 20 years

Photo by Andreea Popa on Unsplash

Road gritting and snow clearing

Municipal governments are responsible for gritting and clearing snow on public roads.

The system in Austria works well with gritting trucks regularly maintaining roads throughout the winter. As a result, roads are rarely blocked due to snow or ice in residential areas or on main roads.

However, owners of property also have to chip in and are required to clear snow from pavements and footpaths within 3 metres of their property. If there are no footpaths, then the road must be cleared and gritted within one metre of the property. 

Weather forecasts

When driving during the winter months in Austria it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast in advance – especially if setting out on a long trip. 

If heavy snow or extremely cold temperatures are predicted then try to postpone the journey, if possible. But if you have to drive, pack a few essentials in case there are delays. 

Must-have items include drinking water, a flask of tea/coffee, a shovel for clearing snow, a warm coat, gloves, a torch and a mobile phone.

Winter weather can vary between regions in Austria, particularly in the Alps. But a little bit of planning can make a big difference to your journey.

Useful links

The Austrian Federal Government guide to driving in winter

Austria by road (travel guide)

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