Coming from the UK system, many things “surprised” me a little about driving a car in Vienna. Enjoy some extra tips for a safer and more enjoyable road experience, many of which I learned the hard way…
The Austrian authorities provide a lot of useful information in English about driving laws and similar – read up on local traffic regulations here and here for starters. Consider the following as merely bonus advice:
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 safely 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 its 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.
You may only drive off again and pass the tram if the tram moves off or the coast is completely clear (nobody leaving the tram, nobody boarding or looking to board, and the trams doors have all closed).
The best advice is 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 crossing at the same junction: they may have priority right of way, even if your lights are green.
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.
Vienna has lots of cars without Viennese or Austrian number plates, 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, for example, tends to be much looser than in the UK, despite similar rules.
10. Drive on the right
Not a surprise, but not something to forget (um, obviously).