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April 4, 2019

Europe: Highway Vignettes

Filed under: Europe, General Travel, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , , — anotherheader @ 11:36 am

In Hungary at the frontier with Austria the immigration and customs buildings have been partially repurposed as a fuel stop and a place to buy highway vignettes for the Austrian motorways.

Europe’s numerous toll roads are changing. Rather than a system that relies on the traditional tollbooths periodically place along a controlled access highway, many countries are now using a vignette system. Under this system motorists buy a pass that permits access to the country’s motorways for a defined periods of time. Tollbooths and their queues of cars are becoming a thing of the past.

The exact detail of how the vignette system works varies by country. Some places require the purchase of a sticker to be affixed on the inside of the windscreen. These adhesive labels are usually available at the borders or at gas stations along the motorways. In Slovakia they skip the sticker all together: You pay at the border and are given a less than satisfying receipt to carry with you in case there is an issue. In Hungary the system is online: You register the car’s license plate, pay a fee, and hope that the effort mattered.

We were starting to run out of window space.

Prices vary by length of stay and by country. This year vignettes cost us between €15 and €40 ($17 to $46) for weekly, monthly, or yearly access to the various countries’ toll roads. (A full year for about $40 US is the only option in Switzerland.) Though the cost seems high we have spent €40 in a single day for tolls on the French autoroute, a system that uses traditional tollbooths. By comparison, the vignettes can be a bargain.

A downside to the vignette system is the windshield clutter. Indeed, on our road trip if we passed through a few more countries requiring motorway stickers we may not have been able to see where we are going.

What are the consequences of not paying? How likely is it to be caught if you miss buying a vignette at the border? We can’t answer that question but we do know that the first time we drove through Switzerland we didn’t know that a vignette was required on the motorways and managed to escape without a fine.

At least we didn’t have to display this less than satisfying receipt from the Czech Republic.

With that we won’t push our luck. By the end of the season we received five notifications from our rental car company of $25 administrative fees to cover their costs when local authorities had sought more information about our car because of photographic evidence of violations. At least two of these were for entering an official pedestrianized zone in Alba Italy on the only route to the parking area for our hotel. I’m not sure what we were supposed to do, particularly after a policeman pointed the way to drive through the pedestrian zone to reach the hotel. In any event the local authorities haven’t actually fined us. It has just been administrative charges from the Sixt, the car rental agency. Perhaps the localities don’t think it was worth the effort to try to get us to pay. Or maybe we will be getting the fines passed through to us a year or so later.

The notification received by our rental car company about an infraction Ravenna Italy. We have no idea of where this would have occurred.

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