The saying above is popular in Germany, but it may not prove to be true for much longer. Although Germany began charging an autobahn toll for trucks in 2003, passenger car drivers can still drive on the Autobahn without any extra charges. But pressure has been growing to introduce similar road tolls in Germany – and not just for the autobahn! In late 2015 the German government introduced a proposed Pkw-Maut (automobile toll) system that would apply to Germans and non-Germans, but would allow only German citizens to be compensated through auto registration rebates. The Austrian and Swiss toll schemes do not allow that, and disputes over possible EU law violations are the only reason a highway toll has not yet been introduced in Germany. Stay tuned. (See more below.)
Austria and Switzerland
In neighboring Austria and Switzerland autobahn tolls have long been a fact of life. They (plus France and other European countries) levy a Maut for using their high-speed, limited access highways.
The Autobahn Toll Sticker
Rather than a kilometer-based turnpike toll, such as that exacted on France’s autoroutes or Italy’s autostradas, Switzerland was the first to charge motorists an annual flat fee for the use of its autobahn network. Austria later copied the idea, but also offered toll stickers for shorter periods of time, a nice benefit for the many tourists who visit Austria for only a few days, a week, or a month.
An Austrian or Swiss “Vignette” must be displayed on a car’s windshield. (Motorcycles are also subject to the autobahn sticker requirement. Trucks pay a kilometer-based toll.) Motorists entering Austria or Switzerland without a vignette must purchase one or be subject to heavy fines (see below). You’re okay if you stay off the autobahn or Schnellstraßen (limited-access roads), but that’s not easy to do. If you’re lucky, your rental car may already have one. If not, you will have to contribute 40 Swiss francs to the Swiss treasury upon entering that country. As in the USA, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Unlike Switzerland, Austria permits drivers to purchase an Autobahnvignette for various periods of time, from ten days to a full year. The so-called Mautvignette (toll sticker) must be affixed to the inside of the front windshield. The stickers come in varying colors in different years, making it easier for the police to spot an invalid Autobahnpickerl, Austrian slang for “autobahn sticker.” To prevent misuse, the stickers are also designed to tear apart if removed from the window glass.
Prices for an Austrian passenger-car vignette range from 8.00 euros (ca. $8.65) for a 10-day sticker to 77.80 euros ($83) for a year (for vehicles up to 3.5 tons).* Motor homes and large vehicles over 3.5 tons must have a so-called “GO-Box” that tracks your actual mileage. If you are caught without one, the fine is 220 euros. Motorists can obtain a GO-Box at the border for a five-euro fee. You can buy an Austrian or Swiss auto vignette at gas stations, border crossings, or post offices. It is also possible to purchase a Swiss autobahn sticker in advance, online from the German postal service (Deutsche Post), from automobile clubs, and the Swiss Tourism office in London. Tip: Sometimes people sell extra, unused vignettes on eBay or other online auction sites.
|Germany’s Proposed Auto Toll (Pkw-Maut)
On March 24, 2017, Germany’s lower house (Bundestag) voted to approve a proposal for Germany’s first road-toll system for private passenger vehicles (Pkw-Maut). Transport minister Alexander Dobrindt (CSU) had finalized the Pkw-Maut proposal that he first introduced in 2015. Controversial from the start, the newest road toll scheme may still face opposition in the upper house (Bundesrat). Unlike similar flat tolls in Austria and Switzerland, the German scheme charges for all roads and highways, including Germany’s 13,000-kilometer autobahn network. Critics say that the German plan may not bring in the revenue its proponents are promising. They also warn that the toll could lead to the privatization of Germany’s autobahns.
From the start in 2015, Dobrindt’s auto toll faced legal challenges within Germany and from several European neighbors. Austria and Switzerland in particular object to the German proposal because it, in effect, only impacts foreign, non-German motorists, while all motorists, foreign and domestic, driving on Austrian or Swiss raods have to pay the autobahn toll in those countries. Germany’s proposed toll would be paid by all motorists, but German drivers would be compensated by a refund or a reduction of their automobile registration fees. German motorists will pay an average annual toll of 67 euros, with a maximum toll of 130 euros, depending on six levels of ecological ratings for their cars. Unlike its closest neighbors, there would be no toll stickers (Frye Oxford Cognac Sam Derby Men's Cognac Sam Men's Derby Oxford Frye Vignetten) placed on the vehicle’s windshield. As in Austria, Germany offers short-term tolls. A ten-day German toll for foreign drivers would cost between 2.50 and 25 euros, depending on the car’s ecological rating. The two-month toll rate would range between 7 and 50 euros. Enforcement would be random, using license plate scanners. – Even if the new German road toll does gain approval, the earliest it could go into force is 2019. There also could be other modifications to the law by then, and there are already new threats of court challenges.
In addition to the normal Austrian autobahn sticker, there are tolls for several stretches on the Austrian highway network. Examples include the Brenner Pass autobahn (€8.00), the Tauern autobahn (€10.00), and the Arlberg tunnel (€8.50). Driving through the Felbertauern tunnel costs €10.00, while the scenic Großglockner Alpine road will set you back €26.00. (Prices subject to change.)
The fine in Austria for driving on the autobahn without a valid sticker: 400-4000 euros. That does not include the toll surcharge penalty (€120/$130) that must be paid at the same time.* That means the minimum fine could cost you more than six times as much as the cost of an annual Austrian autobahn sticker!
In Switzerland, drivers caught driving on the autobahn without a sticker have to pay a fine of 100 Swiss francs plus 40 francs for the vignette (a total of about $145 USD).*
For more information (in German), see the Web links below.
*Fees and currency exchange rates vary. See the “KFZ-Auskunft” link below for current information.
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Driving on the Autobahn – Seven rules for drivers
- The Autobahn – A history of the autobahn with practical information
- Autobahn Infographic – History and fun facts about the German autobahn in a cool graphic
- Driving in Germany – Part 1
- Driving in Germany: Rental Tips – Renting a car in Germany
- Driving: Environmental Zones – Many cities in Germany have “green zones” that require a special sticker for entry.
ON THE WEB
Auto club and other links for Austria, Germany, Switzerland:
- go-maut.at – Austrian toll info from ASFINAG for larger vehicles (in English or German; see flags top right)
- ÖAMTC – The main Austrian autombile club
- EUAC – The European automobile club (Austria)
- ACS – Switzerland (Automobil Club der Schweiz)
- EU Autobahngebühren – Current European motorway tolls/fees (KFZ-Auskunft.de – in German)
Legal Notice: We are not responsible for the content of external links.