Although Germany began charging an autobahn toll for trucks in 2003, passenger car drivers can still drive the Autobahn without any extra charges (so far). But neighboring Austria and Switzerland (plus France and other European countries) charge a Maut, or toll, 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. (For information about the proposed new roadway tolls in Germany see below.)
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. $10) for a 10-day sticker to 77.80 euros ($96) 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.
In addition to the normal 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 (ca. $500-$5000). That does not include the toll surcharge penalty (€120/$148) 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 $144 USD).*
Germany’s Proposed New Autobahn Toll
In early July 2014 German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt announced a new roadway toll scheme that would make Germany one of the last European nations to charge motorists a special fee to use its high-speed autobahns. The new levy would not start before 2016, but is projected to raise 2.5bn euros ($3.4bn, £1.98bn) over four years. The proposed new toll (Maut in German) would apply to all roadways in Germany, not just the country’s famous autobahn network.
As in neighboring Austria and Switzerland, vehicles will be issued windshield sticker permits. As in Austria (but not in Switzerland), short-term stickers will be available for foreign drivers. A German toll sticker for 10 days will set you back 10 euros. An annual permit will cost about 100 euros, although these rates are still subject to change.
Because German motorists are to be compensated through a vehicle registration tax rebate, the proposed German system may violate EU law. Austria and the Netherlands have already complained about the German proposal being a violation of EU anti-discrimination laws. Motorists living in Austria, the Netherlands, and other EU countries must pay for autobahn permits in their respective countries, without any compensation or rebates.
Germans have long complained of having to pay to drive on the autobahn in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland, while motorists from those countries pay nothing to drive in Germany. But the proposed German toll would apply to all roads and highways in Germany, not just the autobahns – which would become turnpikes rather than freeways if Dobrindt’s proposal becomes law.
*Based on exchange rates in August 2012. See the “KFZ-Auskunft” link below for current information.
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