Driving in Austria: A Guide for Tourists and Newbies (+ Tips for Winter)

10+ tips to keep safe and out of trouble

Driving in Austria is generally uncomplicated, but there are two things that can land tourists in hot water with the local authorities. They are the failure to buy a vignette (Austrian toll sticker) and not adhering to the speed limit. Also, driving in Austria in winter provides its own set of challenges. That´s why we´ve put together some helpful tips to help you navigate the Austrian roads.

Putting on snow chains is a reality when driving in Austria in winter.
Putting on snow chains: a worst-case scenario when driving in Austria.

Do I Need a Vignette for Austria?

Yes, yes, and yes. Austrian motorways are toll roads without toll gates. Instead, you buy a vignette which comes in the form of a windscreen sticker or a digital pass.

Vignettes are for sale at most petrol (gas) stations next to the motorway, also close to the border in neighbouring countries. They are available for periods of 10 days (for €9,60), two months (for €28,20) or one year (for €96,40).

Don’t take chances, the fine is €120 if you are caught without one.

Note: If you travel over the Brenner Pass to Italy, as well as through certain Austrian tunnels, you must pay an additional toll fee.

Which Side of the Road to Austrians Drive On?

Like the rest of mainland Europe, Austrians drive on the right side of the road. For a landlocked country, I’m always surprised at how many motorists get it wrong on the motorways. There’s even a name for them: Geisterfahrer (literal translation: ghost driver).

In 2018, the Austrian radio station Hitradio Ö3 interrupted its broadcasts 409 times to warn about such drivers. Thankfully, the announcement is also repeated in English. It goes something like this:

“Attention all motorists on the A so-and-so. There is a car heading in the wrong direction between so-and-so. Please drive carefully.”

To M’s dismay, we’ve never come across a “Geisterfahrer”. We did come close once. There was one on the A12 near Innsbruck when we were travelling home from skiing in Seefeld. However, the announcement that it had left the motorway came just as we were about to take an alternative route.

Do I need winter tyres in Austria?

From 1 November to 15 April you may only drive in winter conditions, such as icy roads or roads covered in snow or slush, if you have winter tyres fitted. If you are caught without winter tyres in Austria in such conditions, you will be fined €35.

If other road users are endangered by your non-compliance to drive with winter tyres in Austria, the fine can be as high as €5,000.

Driving in Austria in winter can be challenging.
The “winterdienst” or winter service on Austrian roads are generally very well coordinated.

The alternative is to use snow chains, but they’re only allowed if the road is fully or mostly covered in snow or sleet. Just make sure you know how to put them on before you need them! We’ve spent many frustrating minutes next to the road trying to figure out snow chains.

Take note: Snow and ice must be removed from your car’s roof, windows, lights and number plates before driving.

For more details on driving in Austria in winter, check out this handy summary by the Austrian government.

What is the speed limit in Austria?

The general speed limit on Austrian motorways is 130 km/h. I know, it’s a bit of a let-down after driving as fast as you like on most sections of the German autobahn, isn’t it?

The motorway speed limit in Austria goes down even more to 100 km/h due to pollution control in the federal state of Tyrol.

Of course, the speed limit on all motorways is lowered in the case of accidents and extreme weather conditions. Always keep an eye on the electronic signs to adjust your speed accordingly.

General speed limit overview

Motorways130 km/h
Open country roads100 km/h
Main roads100 km/h
Urban areas50 km/h
  • The speed limit in high-traffic streets in residential areas can go down to 30 km/h. It can be frustrating travelling at such a snail’s pace but my best advice is to stick to it. I was fined €30 once for driving 34 km/h in such a zone.

Tyrol speed limit exceptions

To reduce pollution, a permanent speed restriction of 100 km/h is imposed on some motorways in the federal state of Tyrol. The sections concerned are:

  • The A12 Inntal (Inn Valley) motorway between the border with Germany near Kufstein and the western authority border of Zirl (west of Innsbruck).
  • A 13 km-section of the A12 between the villages of Imst and Zams.
  • The A13 Brenner motorway between Innsbruck and Schönberg.
Auto Europe Car Rentals

What is the legal drink-drive limit in Austria?

The legal blood alcohol limit for drinking and driving in Austria is 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. A minimum fine of €300 is imposed for those exceeding the limit. In addition, your driver’s license may be confiscated for at least 6 months if your blood alcohol limit is 0.8 mg/ml and over.

Which day of the week is the best for driving through Austria?

Big trucks are not allowed on Austrian motorways on public holidays and weekends, starting at 15:00 on Saturdays. So, if you plan to travel over a weekend during peak holiday seasons, make it on a Sunday. Furthermore, trucks are banned from the entire road network from 22:00 to 05:00 daily.

Best roads for driving in Austria.
Quiet mountain roads like the Zillertal High Alpine Road are where you want to be on “abreisetag”.

Another reason why driving through Austria on a Saturday is not such a good idea during peak holidays, is because it’s what is generally known as “abreisetag”. Many hotels only sell weekly packages from Saturday to Saturday. This results in high traffic volumes as everyone leaving and arriving on the same day.

Obligatory safety equipment for cars in Austria

  • Warning triangle which conforms to EC regulation 27.
  • First-aid kit with all necessary equipment and materials to treat wounds.
  • Enough reflective vests for all occupants of the car. The triangle and vests must be displayed or worn when you get out of your car at an accident scene or during a breakdown. Find more details here.

Emergency telephone numbers in Austria

EU Emergency112

More tips for driving in Austria

  • Bring a GPS – A GPS or any other kind of navigation system is highly advisable. The road signs can be very confusing, even if you have a detailed map.
  • Never fill up on the motorway – Filling up at a gas station on the motorway is expensive. Rather fill up in the city/town before you leave. If you are running low on petrol or diesel while on the motorway, rather exit and find the nearest town. If it coincides with hunger pangs, you’ll also find much better and cheaper food away from the motorways.
  • Get real-time traffic reports – The toll-road company Asfinag has the most up-to-date information about traffic problems and road closures.
  • Use of headlights – Driving with your headlights on is optional during daylight hours.
  • Children in cars – Car seats or booster seats are required for children under 1.50 m in length up to 14 years of age. Also, no smoking is allowed in cars with child occupants.
  • Using a mobile phone – Mobile phones may only be used for talking and as a navigation system and then only with a hands-free device.

Disclosure: My content is intended to help you plan the best trip to Austria. Where appropriate, I include affiliate links in blog posts or pages to make it easy for you to access relevant services, attractions, and products. I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, to help me maintain the blog if you click through and make a purchase. All support is appreciated!

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About Linda de Beer 91 Articles
Name: Linda de Beer Profession: Travel blogger and freelance writer