I honestly thought snow would be the worst thing I would encounter when driving in Austria over winter.
I was wrong.
While snow does provide its own unique challenges, I have to say, in my first year of driving it wasn’t nearly as bad as the fog (Nebel, in German) – the dreaded, nasty fog. Austria, as it turns out, with its scenic vista of mountains and lakes, is a veritable fog-magnet.
I honestly thought that I had experienced fog before. As it turns out I was wrong on that count too. At first I turned on the demister, assuming the windscreen was fogging up from the inside, then I tried the windscreen wipers – no change.
For weeks, on the way to and from work I would drive, shoulders hunched, clutching the wheel, heart pounding progressively faster and faster. I ended up with a sore back/neck most days and didn’t figure out why until the fog was gone!
I was petrified that when the snow finally came I would have to drive in my little-to-no visibility world, with snow sleeting down on me as well. Luckily, some weather phenomenon or temperature thing (so sue me, I’m not really into technical details, ok?), means that it’s not common for bad snow and bad fog to occur at the same time. Notice I said not common… still not impossible.
Driving in the fog is like driving in a bubble. Sometimes vision seemed less than 5-10m and you just can’t drive at 10km/h on the autobahn – you can’t risk someone coming around behind you too fast and not seeing you in time. Because once there’s a small accident on the autobahn in bad fog… well there’s been plenty of massive multi-car pile ups due to this.
You have to constantly watch in front of you for signs of other vehicles appearing in the distance and overtaking (if you dare) is an absolute nightmare. You can’t see the bends coming up and the same road you’ve driven every day for a whole year becomes an unknown beast! I have fog lights, and while the back one is absolutely essential (so other cars can see you more easily), the front ones are rarely helpful, and often make visibility worse!
Although it’s scary and dangerous, when everyone is driving at a safe speed (and they usually are) and staying alert, there’s no problems. Some nights it felt like I was driving on a ghost autobahn because I literally would not see another car… with everyone driving at the same, slow speed.
I have found myself in tunnels (fog goes in there too) without even realising one was coming up. Entire petrol stations and rest stops disappear completely at times. And because it’s winter, it’s usually dark as well, which only adds to the challenge. Still, 2015 hasn’t been as bad as 2014 so I’m not complaining!