A holiday in Austria can be expensive if you don't do your homework first. Because on the motorways of that country the toll works in a different and much more complicated way than in Italy: a sticker to be applied to the windscreen called a "vignette", to be purchased before entering the motorway section. Many Italian motorists, despite having purchased the vignette, have also received very heavy penalties from the dealer in that country, Asfinag.
In recent weeks, the European Consumer Center (CEC) in Bolzano has been inundated with reports and requests for help. Precisely for this reason he has published an online guide to prevent new sanctions, explaining how the Austrian system and the bizarre cartoon mechanism works. “One of the most serious problems is that fines often arrive many months late. And in the meantime, motorists may have detached it from the windshield or thrown away the receipt: they get angry because even though they know they have paid, they can't prove it” explains Stefano Albertini, coordinator of the Bolzano CEC. Asfinag explained to the Cec that the impossibility of verifying the payment is the basis of various fines. What does it mean? “That it doesn't matter that you have bought the vignette, if the motorway system is then unable to read them” continues Albertini. In this case, therefore, unfortunately it seems that there is little that can be done.
The problem is not only Asfinag's Byzantine method of paying the toll, but also the way the authorities handle the fines. In theory, in fact, a fine of 120 euros should arrive. Anyone who thinks they are right, through the CEC, can ask the motorway company (by presenting evidence) to cancel it. Except that sometimes, instead of the 120 euro fine, the "reduced" administrative penalty of 300 euro arrives directly: at that point you can make a request for cancellation in self-defense, but since Austrian law does not provide for an appeal, the authority is not obliged to respond. After four weeks, anyone who does not pay this reduced fine goes through the real administrative procedure, which can lead to a fine of between 300 and 3,000 euros, which can be appealed against.
But why is this hail of fines coming now, given that the Austrian vignette has been in use for many years? The explanation is in the European directive 520/2019, which Italy implemented in 2021. This regulation makes life easier for road dealers, making available to them the data relating to the owners of foreign vehicles who commit an infringement within their own network. In fact, before this directive it was very difficult to run into a fine abroad (unless you were stopped by a policeman or a patrol, of course) while now the risk is very high, as the Austrian case demonstrates.
In addition to the tutorial for affixing the sticker correctly, the European Consumer Center has provided some practical advice:
- purchase the cartoons only from expressly authorized points of sale, petrol stations or service stations. If disputes arise, such as failure to deliver a copy of the digital vignette, the concessionaire is not liable;
- check that the data shown in the vignette are correct: the license plate number and the country code entered must be verified in the digital vignette. If there are inaccuracies, it must be reported immediately, also by sending a written communication to the dealer;
- keep the payment receipts, a copy of the digital vignette and photograph the windshield with the sticker attached. This information is useful for being able to raise disputes in the event of fines. Without receipts, the chances of a successful claim are minimal. Copies should be kept for at least three to five years, depending on the statute of limitations in the Member State.