It’s pretty exciting (and scary) facing the prospect of driving legally at 130km/h. I have to admit it took me a couple of weeks before I was comfortable but now, I am just like everyone else – hating slowing down to 100 to go through the tunnels.
So here’s a few tips I’ve put together if you ever get the chance to drive the Austrian autobahn.
1. The right lane is your friend
Unless you’re planning to go at least a little bit over the speed limit, stick in the right lane. You would be surprised just how fast someone can come up behind you, lights flashing, cranky and urging you to move over.
Always check your rearview mirror before you pull out into the daunting left lane. Even though you checked just a moment ago and there was no one in sight, doesn’t mean that crazy-ass dude driving at 160km/h hasn’t popped up in the meantime.
3. Be nice to trucks
They’re bigger than you, they’re slower than you and sometimes they just plain get in the way. But remember, they’re bigger than you, and combined with the fast driving speeds on the autobahn, it pays to give them plenty of breathing room.
4. Know the speed limit, but no need to stick to it
10% over is the allowance for speeding over here. So that means 140 in a 130 zone is perfectly acceptable. But there are radars, and police cars waiting, so don’t push it too far. And always drive safely!
5. Drive for the conditions
Snow, ice, fog, rain… it goes without saying… but on the autobahn it’s especially important. Conditions can also change very rapidly so stay alert.
6. But don’t go too slow
Within reason. Slow drivers can create huge hazards when everyone else around them is driving at speed. A car that seems far away in front can suddenly appear right in front of you if you’re not paying attention. Trucks are generally going around 100 and it’s ok to do this and a little less (in the right lane of course), but if you need to drive much slower than that… you probably shouldn’t be on the autobahn. Take the scenic route instead.
7. Stay Alert
Which is easier said than done, given that most of the time traffic is sparse and the roads are wide and accommodating. But you never know when you’re going to round a corner to face an accident or obstacle on the road. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often, but it’s easy for a small accident to turn into a multi-car pileup if drivers aren’t alert. Sometimes at 130 there just isn’t time to stop.
8. Use hazards in an emergency
And if you do find yourself braking hard on the autobahn, get on the hazard button damn quick! Hazard lights mean that a car is suddenly braking, or has seen something ahead to be wary of. So if the car in front of you suddenly puts on its hazards, slow down, even if you can’t see anything yet. Who knows what could be around the corner.
9. Stop for the red light
Before all tunnels and in a few other sections there are traffic lights on the autobahn. If one of these is red, stop as quickly as is safe. These lights are often triggered automatically and can sometimes be nothing, but they can also mean a serious accident is ahead, or another obstacle is on the road. It could be unsafe to drive. Same goes for flashing orange, slow down and stay alert until you pass whatever the problem is.
10. Form an emergency corridor
This is pretty cool. If cars find themselves stopping on the autobahn, they’re required to make an emergency corridor for police, fire etc. All cars will either pull onto the left or right hand side, leaving a safe corridor in the middle for emergency vehicles. Genius!
11. Go to the toilet beforehand
And lastly, never drive on the autobahn when you’re busting. Due to the nature of it, occasionally in the event of a serious accident or heavy snow, you can just be left waiting. There’s literally nowhere to go – you have to simply wait for the road to reopen. And it could be hours. So my advice, pee beforehand and always carry some water with you.