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EXPLAINED: What cyclists and drivers in Austria need to know about new rules

Increasing the minimum distance between cars and bikes and reducing waiting times for pedestrian traffic lights are among the changes in Austria that are designed to make life easier for bikers and pedestrians.

Vienna bike austria cycling
The new rules will make life easier - and safer - for pedestrians and cyclists in Austria (Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash)

Austria is implementing its master plan for facing up to climate change and making its cities better to live in – and especially better for pedestrians and cyclists. The country has already an extensive network of public transport – though critics say there is much to be done, and it’s now updating its regulations to improve the lives of cyclists and pedestrians.

The changes to the highway and traffic code “take the rules for walking and cycling from the 1960s to the 21st century”, Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler (Grüne) said during a press conference to announce the changes in April.

Several changes were made to the original amendments after negotiations with authorities in Austria’s states.

For example the proposed general opening of one-way streets for cyclists allowing them to ride in both directions was eventually scrapped, the mobility spokesman of the Greens, Lukas Hammer, told Der Standard.

What is changing that will benefit pedestrians? 

The government’s amendments will give higher priority to both pedestrians and cyclists, and pavements will have to be kept “free of vehicles and obstacles” with the new regulation.

At least one and a half metres of space needs to be reserved for people who are walking.

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

Perhaps most noticeably, the government announced traffic lights will change to allow a shorter waiting time and longer duration of the green lights so pedestrians can cross the streets after a “without haste”. 

Drivers will also need to give priority to pedestrians crossing the street after getting on or off public transport, a move which is also aimed at beneffiting those who use the public transport system across Austria. 

READ ALSO: How Vienna plans to expand its tram and park & ride systems for commuters

What will be the changes regarding cyclists?

The main changes for cyclists will aim to give them more space among traffic. When overtaking a cyclist, the minimum distance cars should give will increase to up to two metres depending on the location.

Turning right at a red light will be allowed for cyclists “if it does not endanger road safety”, according to the government. For this, a new traffic sign will be introduced in Austria: the green arrow, which will show where the turn is possible.

In addition, cyclists will be allowed to ride side-by-side when one of them is under the age of 12 or at a speed of 30 km/h with another adult.

A woman rides her bicycle through Stadtpark (City park) in Vienna, Austria on October 16, 2019. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Cycling is booming in Austria

Despite being known for its mountains and Alps, Austria is also an extremely bike-friendly country, especially in the lower plains on the Danube. 

In Lower Austria, more than half of the tourists visiting the state are there on cycling holidays, as reported. 

READ ALSO: The best cycle routes in and around Vienna

Bike riding has boomed thanks to the Covid pandemic. Still even before 2020, around € 252 million were generated through cycle tourism in Lower Austria annually.

Last year, the Danube Cycle Path was the busiest bike route, with 1.1 million tourist bike rides between April 1st and September 30th, 2021. Other heavily frequented cycle paths are the EuroVelo 9 in the Weinviertel, the Kamp-Thaya-March route, the Traisental cycle path and the Triesting-Gölsental cycle path.

Environmental initiatives

Much of the changes are part of Austria’s larger climate change action plan. The federal government has already put in place its Klimaticket, with discounted country-wide public transport tickets to incentivise people to leave their cars at home.

READ ALSO: ‘Cool streets’: How Vienna is preparing for climate change and heatwaves

The capital Vienna has also adopted the 15-minute city concept, aiming to make the most essential everyday routes possible within a 15-minute walk. 

The goal is that all Austria’s most populous city residents can feel like they live in a small village. They can walk 15 minutes and reach supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, doctors, schools, and recreational areas.

Many of Austria’s main capitals also have several car-free zones, and Vienna recently introduced the short-term parking concept to (almost) all of its streets

Useful vocabulary

Cyclist – Radfahrer

Pedestrian – Fußgänger

Speeders – Raser

Measures – Maßnahmen

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For members


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.

FOR MEMBERS: Reader question: Can I take the Austrian driving licence test in English?

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)