"Foreign" Traffic Laws...American Scofflaws

OK, forgive my sensationalism of title, but over on the Italy board, over the months, the topic of Limited Traffic Zones (ZTL's) has come up and the high fines that some US (and other nationalities) are incurring. One common complaint/conclusion is that we (as tourists) are just not aware of these "obscure" laws. Watching "Modern Marvels" on the History Channel, they spoke of the Autobahn in Germany. Here are some traffic laws, new to me, that were mentioned:
*Tailgating" is one of the major infractions ticketed, usually done by video cameras and mailed tickets.
*While I was aware that there were indeed speed limits on the Autobahn, they can be variable, changing with traffic conditions and urban areas, using electronic signs to over-rule the "hard posted" limits.
*It is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn.
*Fines are variable based on income...one guy received a $20,000 fine for a relatively minor infraction.
So-o-o...discuss amongst yourselves, any personal experiences or other examples?

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

Austria requires buying a window sticker showing you paid a tax to use the Autobahns. Austria also requires a reflective safety vest in your car at all times in case you have a break-down.

A list of countries require the relatively cheap international drivers permit. They can be had easily at AAA stores around the country, don't leave home without one if you are going to a country that requires them.

Remember your passport is your ID. Don't expect your state driver's license to pass as ID when traveling in Europe.

Posted by Paul n Sara
Newburyport, MA
683 posts

Just chiming in, despite no driving experience in Europe. While we agree that some laws over there are strange or enforced haphazardly, we also know that your ignorance of laws is NEVER a defense. It behooves anyone who wants to drive in Europe to be aware of all traffic laws. This is likely done at AAA equivalents there or may possibly be done at outlets here.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2383 posts

Well, I guess "ignorance of the law is no defense" is exactly my point. I am amazed at the number of people who feel the contrary to be a justifiable excuse. While the examples mentioned above about the Autobahn were new to me, they are somewhat practical. I do believe that they serve as points of interest that may prompt some to dig a little more into laws before they go.

Posted by Connie
Everett, WA
827 posts

Re: Austria requires a sticker: Buy the sticker BEFORE entering Austria. Service stations in neighboring countries have them and there is usually a place right at the border crossing that have them. We crossed into Austria twice and both times the police were set up a couple of miles from the border- I assume they were watching for the stickers.
I think the biggest "adjustment in thinking" for Americans is the prolific use of cameras to enforce laws in Europe. This is a relatively new concept here. People tend to think that as long as a police officer doesn't catch them "red handed" they are ok. Laws are enforced with cameras in Europe, so they are enforced much more even handed over there. You speed, you are ticketed. You enter an area you are not suppose to, you are ticketed. All emotion is removed from the system. (no begging your way out of ticket) Obey the traffic laws and you will be fine. But if you are a person who routinely speeds, you may have some "presents" sent to you after you get home. We talked to an American living in Florence, and her father had visited her a couple of months earlier and had already received 5 traffic fines. He was from California, routinely speeds, and was learning the hard way that Italians enforce their speed limits.

Posted by Lane
Mansfield, GA
847 posts

Interesting Paul that you brought this up. Ignorace of the law is absolutely no excuse and we who are visitors to other countries should resarch those countries before we travel. There is an interesting and rather heated exchange going on at the Trip Advisor/Austria forum about fines incurred by folks who did not know about the vignette sticker. A couple of those people have actually stricken Austria from future visits because they received fines for driving without the sticker or by the way the law enforcement officers treated them as tourists. There are signs warning of the required sticker before entering Austria and also people who research the RS site and also the T/A site would know about this law because it has been brought up time and time again. I received a ticket by the French police because I did not read the rules and was fined and the two policemen were not what you would call friendly but I was wrong and had no hard feelings toward those officers or the laws of their country. In fact I apologized to them for breaking their laws. For someone to vow never to go to a beautiful country such as Austria where there are some very nice people because of their own irresponsibility is beyond me. To me it is their loss not Austria's. If the law enforcement personnel elect to go easy on a tourist and issue a warning that is fine but it should not be expected. If you break the law you should be ready to suffer the consequences and chalk it up to a travel experience and learn from it. Here is the link to that discussion on the T/A forum.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g190410-i146-k2117861-Beware_traffic_sticker_trap_in_Austria-Austria.html

Posted by Connie
Everett, WA
827 posts

I followed the link which led to another
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_965.html#traffic_safety
This is a government advisory site that talks about different countries and includes info on the driving there. It might be a good idea to check out this site for every country your are planning to drive in. I checked out Austria (it explained about the vignettes) and Italy (talked about ZTL zones another hot topic) and also discussed speeding cameras. I am more than willing to do my research, so if anyone else has some links to good sites please post them. Up to this point, I have depended on RS travelers to relate bad experience and learned from there, but web sites that give out more information on driving in foreign countries would be welcome. I just returned from a trip to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Itlay and spent considerable time reading up on speeding cameras and ZTL zones.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

I would never argue that travelers should not be subjected to local laws, but I can't completely let the Austrian traffic police off the hook either. A comparison to neighboring Switzerland shows the different approach to two similar nations. Both countries require a windshield sticker. If you drive into Switzerland, at many border stations, if you do not yet have the necessary sticker, the border guards will sell it to you for the relatively modest fee before they allow you to enter the country. Austria, on the other hand, will wait until you crossed the border, then pull you over and levy a fine for not displaying the sticker. Is this within the legal rights of nation of Austria? Yes, of course, but the contrast to the Swiss method is striking. Another example: there is an infamous stretch of road between Mittenwald and Innsbruck where the speed limit rapidly drops from 90 to 50 km/hr. Unless you are familiar with this segment of the road and anticipate the speed change, it is very difficult to adjust at the start of the 50 km/hr zone, even if you drive well under the speed limint in the previous 90 km/hr zone. And guess who sits right there with a radar gun aimed squarely at the begining of the 50 km/hr zone? If you're one of the lucky ones, you can recognize this area by the line of cars frequently pulled over to the side of the road, waiting to receive their ticket.

I would never let these little annoyances keep me away from Austria. However, it does seem that the Austrian traffic police are perhaps a little too creative in their application of the law.