Coming from the UK system, many things “surprised” me a little about driving in Vienna. Enjoy some tips for a safer and more enjoyable road experience, many of which I learned the hard way…
1. Respect trams
Worship trams. Respect them as the Gods of the road. Ask for their blessing on entering your vehicle. And, most importantly, don’t get in their way.
Obviously, if the tram line follows the same stretch of road you’re on, you’re not obliged to pull over just to let the tram pass. But if you’re otherwise blocking a tram, get out of the way as quickly as possible. Trust me on this. It’s also a legal requirement.
Trams are subject to different road rules: they have no obligation to stop at zebra crossings, for example, if someone’s waiting to cross. And you can assume they always have priority, whichever direction they’re coming from.
2. Be careful at tram (and bus) stops
You might find yourself on a bit of road between a tram line and a tram stop. Which means people leaving or boarding the tram need to cross your lane to do so.
If a tram is approaching such a stop on your side (or is already parked there), you must slow down and stop to allow people to leave or board.
Only drive off again if the tram moves off or the coast is completely clear (and then only slowly until you’re clear of the stop).
Plans are in place to strengthen safety requirements around tram and bus stops. You may have to remain stationery until the public transport vehicle actually moves away.
3. Priority to the right
Vehicles coming from the right have priority, as in much of mainland Europe.
It means, for example, if you’re driving along a road and pass a turn off to the right, you must wait for cars coming on to your road from that turn off.
This does not apply, for example, if they have a “give way” or “stop” sign, or if you’re on a clearly-marked priority road (“Vorrangstraße”).
In practice, traffic lights and signs regulate most junctions in Vienna. But be especially careful if using residential or side roads, as this is where this rule comes into play most often.
4. Be wary on roundabouts
People here are still getting used to roundabouts, which represent a rare and somewhat mysterious concept for many locals. In particular, indicator discipline can be poor, so be extra careful.
5. Watch for cyclists on one-way streets
Some one-way streets have cycle lanes that go against the flow of traffic. This is something to particularly watch for when turning onto a one-way street (you should see appropriate warning signs).
6. Take care turning off at traffic lights
(The rare couples pedestrian crossing lights)
If turning left or right at traffic lights, be careful of pedestrians, even if your lights are green.
Check the pedestrian lights for the road you’re turning into. They may also be green and you must let people cross first: the pedestrians have priority.
7. Don’t use dedicated bus lanes during their hours of operation
This seems obvious. But you might be lured into doing so by the presence of other cars going down those lanes. However, these are probably taxis, which are actually allowed to use the bus lanes.
8. Don’t expect special treatment
If you have foreign number plates, don’t expect other drivers to cut you some slack and show more than the usual amount of patience or understanding. Not because they’re unfriendly, but simply because you’re not unusual.
There are lots of cars without Viennese or Austrian number plates in Vienna, given the city’s international population, location in the middle of Europe on an east-west transit route, and closeness to other countries like Slovakia.
Want to know the smallest measurable unit of time in the Viennese driving universe? It’s the time between the lights going green and the car behind you using their horn to kindly point this out to you.
9. Don’t assume it’s right just because others do it
Driver discipline at zebra crossings tends to be much looser than in the UK, for example, despite similar rules.
10. Drive on the right
Not a surprise, but not something to forget (um, obviously).