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Austria Driving Guide 2020

Driving in Austria may present some challenges to international visitors, but if you know the rules of the road and have an International Driving Permit, you will enjoy your trip with perfect safety.

Lisa Brown

February 17, 2020

INTRODUCTION

It may seem like Austria gets pushed to the bottom of the list when it comes to bucket-list destinations in Europe. Anyone who discounts this amazing country in their travel plans, however, does not understand the unique blend of urban and rural majesty that exists across it. The towering vistas of the Alps lure more than skiers to their powdered slopes. The quaint villages tucked among the hills offer fairytale missions to everyone driving their meandering roads. You cannot forget the historical cities that offer everything from the ultimate multicultural experience to amazing nightlife, shopping, and restaurants.

When you start planning your trip to Austria, one of the most important considerations is transportation. You have to decide where you are going to fly in, and what company you will rent a car in Austria and drive yourself around to all the amazing and unforgettable sites and experiences.

Vienna Austria has been named the city with the highest quality of life for eight years in a row. The stunning Alpine landscape provides skiing, hiking, and so much more to millions of people every year. Some of the most prominent names in art and music like Mozart, Wagner, and Klimt started there many years ago. Museums offer a great look back into the cultural history of this country, Europe, and the world. Austria is well known for its coffee and cakes. The architecture of everything from medieval cathedrals to quaint market squares will thrill any traveler.

Driving in Austria is really your best option for experiencing everything this European nation has to offer. While public transportation exists in the cities, exploring the smaller towns and natural areas do work better if you have control of your own car. In order to drive in Austria in the safest and most appropriate way possible, you need to understand all the laws and regulations surrounding using an international driving permit, the US or other country’s license, and how to fit in smoothly with the rest of the traffic going about their business. Here’s the guide to help you with!

Renting a car will allow you to explore not just the big cities but also those all-important towns, villages and landmarks in Austria.

Is an International Driving Permit Required in Austria?

For residents of Austria or the European Union, you can get an Austrian driver’s license once you hit the age of 18. This is the official driving age in Austria and most of the rest of the world. They also accept photo IDs from the United Kingdom. However, if you are visiting from somewhere else, you will need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP).

It always helps to have international driving permit and your country’s license on you when navigating the roadways in Austria. You should also have your passport on hand. These not only provide more identification but also a firm assurance that you are qualified to drive a motor vehicle in case you get in an accident or are stopped by the police. There is a large fine for driving without a license in Austria and doing so will obviously ruin your holiday.

If you forget or make a last minute decision that you want to rent a car while you are in Austria, it is possible to get an IDP through a premium fast track service, and it will be sent to you electronically in just a few hours.

Driving in Austria With a US License

If you intend to rent a car in Austria and drive around during your stay, you should know that using a US license alone is insufficient to stay legal. Prior to your journey, go through the process of having your US driver’s license translated officially by an Austrian automobile club that is recognized for being able to do this legally.

The perhaps more convenient and better way to manage driving legally in Austria involves getting an International Driving Permit.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Can I Get an International Driving Permit?

Yes. As long as you have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you can apply for and get an International Driver’s license with relative ease. You do not have to take any additional tests or attend any classes to do so. It is important to note that the process to get an IDP may take several weeks for all the paperwork processing and shipping of the actual permit to you.

In the United States, you can apply online for the international driving permit from the International Drivers Association. If you have a physical office location in a convenient area, you can also make an appointment and handle the paperwork in person.

International Driver’s License Requirements

Besides leaving enough time to apply for and receive your international driver’s permit, there are a few other things you need in order to complete the process properly. The following requirements pertain to people no matter where they live in the world:

  • Computer and internet access
  • Completed online application with all form fields filled out
  • Copy of a valid country-issued driver’s license
  • Two passport photos with clear images of your face
  • Credit card or other accepted payment methods

At the International Driver’s Association, they process applications as quickly as possible. However, paperwork can slow things down, and any errors or missing documentation may make it last longer. Processing could still take a few days or weeks. This necessary delay is something that you should factor into your Austrian travel planning process. Failure to plan in advance will make it impossible for you to rent a car or drive around on your European vacation.

How Can I Easily Rent a Car in Austria?

Renting a car in Austria is quite the same as renting one anywhere else in the European Union. You will find major car rental companies like Hertz at or around the airport and other prominent travel destinations. Ultimately, the choice of vehicle you rent for your Austrian holiday depends on what you like to drive, how many people are with you, and the level of comfort you enjoy. You will find a variety of makes and models to choose from.

Choosing the Kind of Car to Rent in Austria

It is important to consider the size of the vehicle and its ruggedness depending on where you are going to Austria. If you want to drive through smaller villages, a compact car may be your best choice because it is smaller and easier to park. However, if you are heading up into the mountains, a four-wheel-drive SUV may be a better option. You can switch out one vehicle for another halfway through your journey if that suits your rental needs.

Required Insurance Coverage for Rental Cars

No matter what type of vehicle you choose to rent in Austria, you are required to get both fire and third-party liability insurance. These are usually included in the rental price given to you by the car company. As with most other rental situations all around the world, you also have the option to pay for additional insurance like theft protection and collision.

Renting a Car for the Whole European Union

If you have the luxury of visiting Europe for an extended period of time with your International Drivers Permit, which is good for up to six months, you may wonder about renting a car in Germany and driving to Austria or renting a car in Austria and driving to Poland or any other nearby nation.

You will be very happy to know that it is quite easy to rent a car in one country and visit others during your European holiday. There are no definitive laws that prevent this. However, it is essential that you ask the rental company specifically about whether they are okay with you crossing the borders or not.

Also, remember that you need to learn the rules of the road for more than one country and not just Austria. Going into another country may require additional insurance and certain other fees, too.

What Side of the Road Do You Drive on in Austria?

Like most of the world these days, the driving side in Austria is in the right. This makes it very easy and convenient for people who travel from other European countries or the United States. However, visitors from Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, and parts of Africa and Asia will have to adjust their driving habits to the opposite side of the road.

The fact that you drive on the right side of the road in Austria makes it much easier to follow the standard rules of the road and prevent any frustration of other drivers. Many of the same rules about passing slower traffic, turning at intersections, and entering and exiting the autobahn or other large roads are the same as they are in your home country.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Does Austria Have Toll Roads?

Not only does Austria have tolls that you need to pay on some of the highways, freeways or autobahns, and federal highways or expressways, but you are also required to have driving in Austria vignette displayed on the car if you want to do so. But, what is a vignette for driving in Austria? It is a sticker that you should affix to your windshield in the appropriate place so the authorities can view if you have paid for road tax. This toll sticker also comes in the form of a digital vignette attached to the license plate of your vehicle. Either one is perfectly sufficient to drive legally and pay all necessary tolls in the country.

It is important to note that, unlike in the United States, there are no cash toll booths where you can pay paper or coin money for the tolls. If you do not have a vignette, you will not be able to drive or will get in trouble for toll evasion. This does provide the benefit of not slowing down traffic on a regular basis.

Since most international travelers rent a car when they get to Austria, the hired vehicles probably come with one of these stickers, to begin with. It is important to speak with the representative of the car rental company to make sure that you are prepared for all the driving tolls in Austria with the vignette or sticker.

If you come from outside Austria because you are visiting other nations in Europe on your tour, you can also purchase a toll sticker at a border crossing or a petrol station. For even more convenience, the authorities offer sales online so you can prepare in advance to pay the tolls with ease. They cost anywhere from around €10 to €100 for a 10-day or yearly sticker or vignette respectively. Motorcycles also need a sticker or vignette, but their costs are lower.

Essential Driving Rules and Requirements in Austria

Now that you understand how to rent a car in Australia, the importance of getting a toll sticker or vignette, and the rules about an International Drivers Permit, you are ready to learn about driving requirements in Austria and the driving laws in Austria for international drivers. Like any other country in the world, driving is a privilege that can be taken away from you if you break the laws or failed to display proper safe handling of your vehicle.

In all cases, it simply makes sense to use good driving habits with plenty of common sense and consideration for other people on the road. If there is a posted speed limit, follow it precisely. Never get behind the wheel of your vehicle after having a drink. Do not engage in distracted driving, and always keep children and infants safe with properly attached child seats.

These are the things that you should do whether you are driving at home in the United States, Japan, or another European nation. When you visit Austria on your amazing holiday adventure, it is equally important to drive with care. The following tips for visitors driving in Austria will help you stay safe and legal during your holiday excursions and explorations in this beautiful country.

However, if you truly want to stay on the right side of the law and maintain a high degree of safety to prevent accidents and expensive and frustrating legal incidents, it is important to know the specifics about the driving laws in Austria. Also, get to know some of the culturally acceptable practices so no one else on the road will get angry to you for doing something unexpected or inconsiderate.

Basic Gear Every Driver Needs In Their Vehicle

Although things like having a valid driver’s license, seat belts on, and staying sober are well-known and obvious rules of the road in most places on Earth. The following items must be stored in your car and used appropriately to improve safety while driving or if your car breaks down:

  • Deflectors for your headlight beams or the ability to adjust them manually
  • A reflective jacket or vest to keep you safe at the side of the road
  • Reflective warning triangle to use if your car breaks down
  • First-aid kit sufficient to take care of incidental injuries

While you must keep these things in your car, it is important to note that using a dashboard camera of any kind is illegal. You can own one, but you cannot turn it on and record anything while you are driving. This possibly unexpected law can get you in serious trouble in Austria with fines up to €10,000.

Rules About Cell Phone Use While Driving in Austria

For most travelers, having a cell phone at their side is an essential part of planning a trip and staying on track with their GPS location and maps app. In Austria, it is against the law to use your phone or any other mobile device without a hands-free car kit. The kit itself must not obstruct your vision in any way or require you to bend and shift in an unsafe manner to access it. Also, only navigation services are allowed to be used while you are operating the car or other vehicles.

This means that you are not allowed to make a call to a friend, family member, or business associate to set up a meeting or chat while motoring down the autobahn road. You cannot text, send emails, fiddle with your music program, or browse the Internet in any other way. These rules hold true even if you do have a hands-free mobile mount kit in your car.

If you are caught using your cell phone or other mobile devices anywhere in Austria for something other than a hands-free GPS for map navigation, you will receive a fine of up to €72 depending on the specific circumstances.

Your best bet is to make plans with other people or scope out information about your destination at the hotel before you leave on your daily journey. Because of the lack of safety that comes with distracted driving and cell phone use specifically, always opt for staying in control and on the right side of the law when driving in Austria.

Do You Have to Wear a Seat Belt While Driving in Austria?

The rules about seat belt use in Austria and most of the European Union are a bit stricter than in some other places around the world. Every single person in the car must be properly restrained with a legal safety harness. This holds true for passengers in the back seat, front seat, and the driver themselves.

The responsibility of wearing a seat belt. The individual as long as they are 14 years of age or older. Children under the age of 14 also must wear seat belts or be in an approved child booster seat, car seat, or infant seat properly strapped into the car. The parent, guardian, or controlling adult of the vehicle is responsible for making sure that all of these younger children are properly secured.

Child Safety Seats and Car seats for Infants and Toddlers

Along with the driver of the vehicle taking responsibility for any child or adolescent under 14 years of age, are responsible for securing infants and toddlers in approved car seats. These have to follow the appropriate European or international standards for materials, safety, and connections. If you rent a car in Austria, you can get car seats to comply with all the necessary laws at that time for an extra expense. Of course, you can also find plenty to purchase at regular shops where residents can buy them for their families.

The rules about booster seats and car seats vary depending on the age and height of the child in question. The height limit for determining if someone needs to use a booster seat or can sit in a regular seat belt is 135 centimeters. Therefore, even if someone is 13 years old, if they are under this height limit, they will need a booster seat of some type. This ensures that the seat belt is positioned safely so they are not injured in the case of an accident.

Austria also has specific rules about infants in rear-facing or forward-facing car seats. It is important to note that no rear-facing car seat should be used in a seat that also has a front airbag. This presents a considerable safety concern in the case of an accident. Of course, as a parent, you should be aware of this safety recommendation from the major international automobile and family organizations anywhere in the world.

If your rental car has the option of turning off the passenger side airbag, you can use an infant seat there. If you are driving anywhere in Austria with children or babies, you need to make sure of all of these things before you get in the car for the first time. Driving in Austria without a car seat will result in considerable fines and other potential problems.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

What Are the Speed Limits on Austrian Roads?

People visiting Austria from other countries may have heard stories about the high speeds that drivers use all autobahns and get the idea that there are no speed limits at all. However, just like any other developed area in the world, Austria has very specific speed limits in all locations. It is the German autobahn that has no speed limits in certain locations. Driving in Austria for tourists is not an invitation to go crazy and drive at unsafe speeds.

Austria has two main speed limit criteria in its driving law books. For regular passenger cars, motorcycles, light trucks, and SUVs, the driving speed limit in town is 50 kilometers per hour or about 30 miles per hour. Open road speed limits are 100 kilometers per hour or about 62 miles per hour. Speed limits on motorways or autobahns are 130 kilometers per hour or just over 80 miles per hour.

It is important to note that these general speed rules can change at any specific place within the country. Just like in the United States or any other country, you need to pay attention to the road signs to make sure that you follow limits precisely. On the West Motorway A1, officials have raised the speed limit to 140 kilometers on certain stretches of road. This is the upper-speed limit you can find anywhere in Austria. That is the equivalent of approximately 87 miles per hour.

Do people in Austria drive over the speed limit? Yes, sometimes locals and visitors alike break speed limit laws just like they do anywhere else in the world. Is it a good idea for you to do this too? No! Not only striving in excess of the speed limit dangerous, but you can get pulled over by the police and given a considerable fine with your ticket.

Serious Rules About Drinking and Driving in Austria

Do not even consider having one of Austria’s delicious beers, wines, or schnapps and then getting behind the wheel of your car or other vehicles. Not only is driving under the influence incredibly dangerous, but it is also against the law. Instead, get a cab or hire a car service or make other transportation arrangements if you decide to go out to a pub, visit a winery, or have a fun evening out with your travel companions or new friends.

At the time of this post, the legal blood-alcohol level in Austria is 50 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. This goes down to just 10 milligrams if you are a young driver with less than two years of licensed experience. The penalties for people with International Drivers Permit may extend to further penalties than Austria gives on its own.

If you are stopped by the police for suspicion of drunk driving or driving under the influence of any other types of drugs or substances, you will get a severe fine and potentially other legal complications. The minimum amount that you will have to pay is €364 and you will lose your driver’s license for a period of time.

It is important to note that your IDP is simply an international translation of your existing driver’s license. If your US license, for example, would be revoked with a drunk driving charge, you will also lose your International Drivers Permit. Needless to say, this would put a serious damper on your European holiday.

Understanding Austrian Street Signs

One of the most important aspects of driving in Austria for tourists is to fully understand all of the road signs that give you important information about everything from the speed limit to where to find the hospital to whether you need snow chains or not in the higher elevations.

To increase understanding, many of the common street signs are the same as in the rest of the European Union and even the United States and other countries. For example, a stop sign is a red and white octagon with the word “Stop” printed prominently in the center. A yield or give way sign is a red and white triangle that is easy to recognize.

It is important to note that in Austria, you will see one sign for the start of a particular zone and the same sign with a red slash through it for the end of that zone. For example, a blue rectangle with a black image of two people walking shows a pedestrian zone, and the same with the red line shows the end of where people can walk. This helps you understand when it is safe to resume normal driving methods.

Speed Limit Signs

Although you should know about the standard urban, freeway, and autobahns speed limits, you must also recognize the speed limit sign when one appears. These are circular with a thick red ring around the outside and a bold black number in the center. You will also see an end of the speed limit sign in black and white with a black slash across it. This helps to regulate your speed appropriately for changing conditions.

Understanding Graphic Warning Signs

In Austria, the majority of warning signs are upward-facing triangles or circles with a bold red outline and a black icon of some type in the middle. Most of these are rather self-explanatory and should be understood easily by people who drive regularly in other countries. For example, an arrow bending sharply to the right or left indicates a dangerous turn. A picture of a train indicates an upcoming railroad crossing. The outline of a deer shows places where wildlife is more likely to cross the road.

Prohibitory signs that indicate no entry with a red circle and white line through the middle, no U-turns with a crossed-out turn arrow, or a bicycle in a red circle clearly indicate that you cannot enter in that area.

Signs Giving Location Information

The majority of informational signs for things like hospitals, parking lots, gas stations, and bicycle routes are medium blue and white. These may contain a black or red icon in the middle of a letter like P for parking or H for hospital. Arrows and the word “Einbahn” clearly show one-way streets.

You may see road directional signs with a variety of black arrows. This helps you identify unique situations like left turns with a jug handle, merging lanes, and lanes that are reserved for bus traffic.

Austria uses a variety of other street signs to give information about everything from handicapped parking spaces to the height of an underpass to requirements for snow chains in case of inclement weather. If you intend to drive in many locations across the country on your trip, it might help to carry along a travel guide that shows what all the signs mean in case you come across one you do not understand.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

What to Do If Stopped by the Police While Driving in Austria

If you break any of the rules of the road for driving in Austria, you may be stopped by the police or Polizei. They drive both standard marked police cars and unmarked cars on the motorways and other roads around the country. It is important to note that even the unmarked vehicles display a flashing identification sign in the rear window.

Unfortunately, there have been some instances of fake police pulling people over in an attempt to get their paperwork or commit various other crimes like theft. If you have any doubt about the validity of the police officer or car that stops you, you are allowed to pick up your cell phone and call 133, which is the Austrian equivalent of 911 emergency number. As a tourist, you have to make smart decisions about your safety. If the person who pulls you over is an actual police officer, they should understand your concern and interest in double-checking to make sure you are not in danger.

Do not leave your vehicle if you are pulled over by the police in Austria. Have all of your appropriate identification paperwork and your International Drivers Permit ready and available for them to see. Be polite, keep your hands visible, do not argue, and understand that breaking the law results in fines or penalties that you cannot escape.

Your best bet for a happy holiday in Austria is to not do anything that will get the police to pull you over in the first place. However, if you break down, the police may pull up behind or in front of you to assist. You must get your car over to the far right side of the road and out of traffic as much as possible. Put on your reflective vest or jacket before exiting your vehicle and use the reflective triangle or other signs to warn motorists.

Special Tips for Driving in Austria in the Winter

If you travel to this magnificent Alpine country in the colder months of the year, you should learn about driving in winter Austria and all the unique complications that may arise. The winter months are bitterly cold here in Western Europe, and you may see a lot of snow and ice on the roads. In mountainous regions, you may even come across an avalanche partially covering or blocking the roadway. If you are unaccustomed to driving in these conditions, please remember to take a lot of extra time and precautions when you head out.

Driving in Austria in December, January, and February and other months may bring you in contact with dangerous conditions on a regular basis. While snow removal is done effectively in the urban and suburban areas, do not expect the same when you head up into the Alpine areas. Austria requires the use of winter tires between the beginning of November and April 15.

Some roads up in the mountains close due to excessive snow at certain times of the year. The ones that stay open may require you to use snow chains on your tires for additional traction. If you have never driven with snow chains before, you should opt to get them attached by an expert at a petrol or service station. Failure to follow these rules may result in a fine or even losing your license for a period of time. The most important tips to have a safe journey is to drive slowly, carefully, and follow all recommendations and safety protocols precisely. Never take risks with your rental car, yourself, or your passengers.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Enjoy History, Culture, and Beauty on the Road in Austria

If you plan your next vacation adventure to Austria in the middle of Western Europe, there are many things to take into consideration. You need to choose everything from your flight into the country or a nearby EU nation to the must-see locations that you add to your itinerary along the way. One of the best ways to have freedom of movement and more relaxed experience is to rent a car in Austria and drive around to its many unique parts. With your International Drivers Permit on hand, any person above the age of 18 with all the requirements necessary to get a rental car can jump behind the wheel and start exploring.

You will find comfortable opportunities for taking public transport in Vienna and other major cities. You can purchase tickets directly at the underground stations or on the trams themselves above ground. Buses also run during the day and at night. However, if you are more interested in self-directed exploration with fewer limits to where you can go, renting a car makes more sense.

With your own vehicle, you can journey from the glorious historical architecture of Vienna like the Hofburg Imperial Palace to the famous Salzburg Cathedral or locations where Mozart once played, to Innsbruck, a magical winter village with multi-hued houses along the shores of the icy river. Whether you want to sink into the rich history of this country, hit the slopes of some of the best ski resorts on earth, explore the latest restaurants with international fair or that loose at some wild nightlife destinations, Austria has everything you need to have a memorable holiday.

Driving in Austria, understanding how to navigate with the street signs, and staying legal by knowing all the laws about licensing, cell phone use, speed limits, and driving under the influence will only make your trip that much better, safer, and more fun.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Austrian drivers might have a few bad habits, but aggression is definitely not one of them, so drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the open road.