Toll roads

We rented a car from Hertz in Germany last July, 2013. We made arrangements through AAA here several months in advance and got what we thought was a good deal. We were very surprised to receive a registered letter with a traffic ticket this week (February, 2014) from Vienna, Austria. With difficulty, we translated it from German and found out we had driven on a toll road, A23, without the required vignette. That is a sticker that is required to be displayed on the windshield. The letter said we owed a fine of 550 euros. We contacted the honorary Austrian consulate in Minneapolis, who did not completely understand the letter either. He said he would look into it, but advised us to pay it. It seemed to offer us an appeal, if we acted within two weeks. It took us a week to figure that out!

We drove through four countries, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Poland, without stopping at the borders. We paid tolls at toll booths in Austria to go through the mountain tunnels, and several other places. We thought this was the common way to pay tolls.

WARNING! Stop at the border, at a gas station, and inquire about tolls! We had no idea that the road we were on was a toll road, or that these vignettes were for sale and were required. We are law abiding citizens, who would have purchased this if advised to by either AAA or Hertz. We think it negligent of these companies to not advise about this. The web site on Austrian tolls, says they have been in effect since 2002. We did not know enough to look this up specifically before this. We did not see this in the books by Rick Steves, as we read several of his books before our trip.

We were also stopped by the Czech police for a similar reason. There we were directed to a petrol station, like an American oasis, to purchase a toll sticker. Neither the police or the girl working at the gas station knew any English, and we do not know any Czech. The brochure the Czech police held and pointed out, said there was a 5000 crown fine. The sticker cost us 440 crowns for monthly access. I think there was a shorter term one, but we bought what we could.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1961 posts

It is truly unfortunate that you didn't get the message that Austria requires vignettes to get on their autobahns and toll roads.. There are a bunch other countries that also have such temporary road taxes. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vignette_%28road_tax%29#Austria

Your rental agent should have pre-warned you that the sticker had to be affixed to your windshield. What's worse is that Hertz will charge your credit card something like 40 Euros service charges to tell the authorities your name and address.

There are also many places in Europe with those camera-radar systems (unmanned) that will ticket you after the fact. They got me on the tollway going into Venice for 2 mph over the speed limit. There's no variance. I paid 160 Euros almost a year after my return through an European e-payment company.

But should you shell out that much money--since you're back home? It's serious money. I have no answer for you. Maybe someone that reads this knows the consequences of non-payment.

Posted by patelkton
2 posts

I don't even know how to go about paying it. We are getting a friend of my daughter's to translate and contact the appropriate place in German.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
778 posts

This is one of the drawbacks of hiring a car in one country and using it in another. It ought to be fully equipped for the country of hire but may not be elsewhere. A car hired in Austria usually has the vignette needed for A and S class roads. It would also come equipped with a hi-vis vest which is a requirement there (it isn't in Germany).

From the description it seems the AAA is most at fault for not advising you of the requirements or properly arranging them, if that is they knew the countries you intended to use the car in.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

If your bank is a fairly large national institution, someone at your local branch should either know how to wire the funds or how to contact someone who does know. The invoice should contain an IBAN number, which likely begins with an "AT" and contains anywhere from 10 to 20 digitis. If you bank has no idea how to arrange it, try contacint Western Union or Wells Fargo.

It doesn't surprise me that a representative of AAA in the states wouldn't automatically know about the vignette requirement. But I find it hard to believe that you couldn't find that information in a guidebook. Virtually every Austria guidebook I have ever seen mentions it. Even the ViaMichelin website informs you that you need to buy a vignette when you ask for directions. Unfortunately, this is one of those examples where "ignorance of the law is no excuse". Information on the requirement is widely available publicly, so you can't shift the blame onto any other entity for not informing you.

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

I'm sorry this happened to you and it's too late for this information to help you, but I hope it will help others who read this transportation thread and plan to rent a car in Europe. For me, Gemut.com (http://www.gemut.com/index.php) is the car rental equivalent of the Man in Seat 61 for train travel, and I am always surprised that more people don't recommend them. For information specific to Vignettes, Go to page 14 at this link to What You Should Know about Renting a Car in Europe: http://www.gemut.com/images/stories/report/carrentalspecialreport.pdf. This frequently updated guide is just about as thorough as it gets. Someone else said that information about toll roads and special stickers like the Austrian vignette is widely available. That's true, but sometimes it never occurs to either the customer or the service provider that the customer doesn't know what is needed already. And sometimes the customer service person has no clue.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
138 posts

"We did not see this in the books by Rick Steves, as we read several of his books before our trip."

I happened to have our Austria books from last year's trip out and the Transportation sections of both "Munich, Bavaria and Salzburg" and "Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol" mention the need to buy a vignette to drive on major roads in Austria and even advise on where to buy one.

If the letter refers you to a website, you may be able to find an English version and possibly even pay the fine directly with your credit card (I did this after a speeding ticket in France.)

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

Vignettes currently exist in Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and on the central areas of most big German cities and also in Milan.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8754 posts

Would you consider the Umweltplakette (environment sticker) in German cities a Vignette, which is generally seen as motorway tax?

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

The Umweltplakette is something different, because it doesn't designate that you've paid a fee to drive in certain areas. It means that your vehicle meets the emission standards to drive in an urban district. The intention is mainly to keep old cars (Trabis!), particularly polluting trucks, and farm equipment off city streets. And if you're wondering why farm equipment would drive in cities... well, drive a little in Germany and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
556 posts

There are a lot of pitfalls to driving in Europe. The more experienced I get as a traveler, the more I look for ways to travel by train or other means. The Vignette thing is called out pretty prominently in Rick's book, but on our 2006 trip we picked up our car in Germany so not sure whether we had the required high visibility vest or not. We did stop at the first gas station to purchase the sticker once we entered Austria. The speed cameras in France and the U.K. make me very nervous, it really detracts from the travel experience when you have to worry about being 2mph over the speed limit at any and every moment.

Posted by Denise
6 posts

If you need help translating, use Google's translate function. It works quite well and should help you figure out the details in the letter.

Posted by Thomas
Snyder, Texas
503 posts

I remember renting a car in Rosenheim, Germany, in 2000. The vignette rule was in effect then. I remember stopping at a little hut like information center soon after we entered Austiria to buy one. I don't remember after all this time how I knew to do that, but I did. Sorry that happened to you. It is no fun being blindsighted long after the trip. We drove for a month in England last summer, and I agree that having to constantly be aware of your exact speed is a bureaucratic trick to collect many fines from their own citizens. We have numerous people tell us they get a fine bill almost every month. Then they get points on their license, and their insurance goes up. I haven't received anything yet, so I guess I did OK. I was probably the slowest person in England, but it was fun anyway.