Donald MacInnes: Austria takes its toll on the ignorant driver

In the Red

Last week I confessed (rather thrillingly) to being a wanted man in Austria, due to a motoring violation. Since then I have received a hard copy of a letter from our car hire firm, Europcar, passing on the missive from the Austrian government.

The government letter was very thorough, listing pretty much everything (with added green highlighter pen) about our location, speed, direction, wind resistance and overall lane discipline, although it stopped short, thankfully, of listing and denouncing every song my wife and I listened to on the day we flagrantly drove on its motorways without first buying a toll sticker. Even though we didn't know we needed one.

You'll recall that, in despair, I contacted The Independent travel guru, Simon Calder, for advice, but as yet he has not replied to me. He's probably off somewhere, paying his own way.

Thankfully, someone did get in touch, if only to let me know that my wife and I aren't alone. Witness the following email from reader Neil Thomson: "A few years ago we were driving from Germany into Austria… We knew that only German motorways were toll-free and expected to meet toll booths at the border. Instead police filtered off vehicles not displaying stickers into a special lane. It felt like about half the total traffic. The police demanded payment of €120. I protested, but it was clear what would happen if I carried on arguing – a large black wagon with open rear doors was parked nearby. I paid up and we swore never to set foot in Austria again (difficult when they have such nice mountains!). I wrote to the Austrian embassy to explain that government piracy of this kind would not help tourism. The response was firm but polite. It was my responsibility to know these things before visiting."

The cool, officious response received by Neil makes me feel that we will probably have to pay up. It also reminds me of a joke by comedian Paul Chowdhry, who said: "If you get stabbed, there's a good chance your attacker will never get caught. But drive your car in a bus lane and within 48 hours, a photo will land on your doorstep showing you actually committing the 'crime'. Basically, if we ever get stabbed, we should try to make sure that it happens in a bus lane…"