Traffic fines

The Austrian Court of Audit’s (ACA) newest report concerns traffic fines. The auditors found that a central, nationwide administrative penalties register was lacking.

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It was therefore nearly impossible for the criminal authorities to detect outstanding claims or imprisonments outside their own jurisdictions (usually the jurisdiction of the district authorities). Consequently, the authorities had to make disproportionate efforts to identify repeat offenders and to consider such repeat offences when determining the level of penalty. Overall, the Federation and ASFINAG, as well as the provinces of Lower Austria and Upper Austria generated a revenue of some EUR 310 million from traffic fines in 2017 – this constituted an increase of 18% compared to 2013 (about EUR 263 million).  

Numerous entities, such as the Federation, the provinces and the municipalities, as well as the Austrian road operator ASFINAG are involved in the prosecution of traffic offences. The entities responsible for traffic monitoring are the bodies of the Federal Police, the toll supervision bodies of ASFINAG and – if established – the municipal monitoring agencies. The district authorities, the criminal offices of the provincial police directorates and the municipal administrations of Vienna are in charge of the operational execution.

Fines and tolerance margins differ from province to province

Catalogues of traffic offences and penalties provide information concerning road traffic offences; they indicate which level of fine and range of punishment will be applied. The Federal Ministry of the Interior also prepared a federal catalogue of offences, which was not binding for the provinces. This resulted in the fact that the fines for the same offence differed from province to province. In the federal catalogue of traffic offences, “failure to lend aid or assistance” was, for example, punished with a fine of EUR 365; in Lower Austria this offence was fined with EUR 70, less than a fifth. A legal ticket (Organstrafverfügung) due to an “unlawful passing by a children’s transport” cost EUR 50 in Lower Austria, while in Upper Austria it cost only half as much, amounting to EUR 20. Similar differences existed with regard to the exceeding of speed limits. The authorities could not define the range of tolerance on their own. In Upper Austria speed enforcement was conducted with a tolerance margin laid down via a decree; Lower Austria did not publish such margins.

ACA recommends: nationwide uniform level of fines and penalties

The differing levels of fines resulted from the discretionary powers granted by the legislator to the authorities. The relevant laws provided for levels of penalties but did not lay down the level of fines. Furthermore, the provincial administrative courts interpreted the provisions and the levels of fines differently. The ACA therefore recommended to define uniform levels of fines and penalties for abridged procedures nationwide. Furthermore, uniform regulations should be laid down that determine for which offences an anonymous penalty notice (Anonymverfügung) can be imposed.

The prosecution of traffic offences across borders posed a special challenge for the authorities. In 2015, the EU issued a directive on road-safety-related traffic offences, which focused on eight offences that considerably jeopardise road safety. In 2017, some 99% of such offences concerned the exceeding of speed limits in Austria. Of the about 1.5 million offences in Austria in 2017 that fell within the remit of the directive, 523,010 or some 35% concerned vehicles registered in Germany. Problems arose in the execution of the penalties since German law does not provide for the process of ascertaining the identity of the driver – instead, front images of the driving person would support the prosecution of traffic offences. France, Latvia and Romania rejected each request for mutual legal assistance traffic offences. As regards vehicles from third countries, lacking or insufficient legal foundations rendered an effective prosecution of traffic offences difficult or impossible. Switzerland and Liechtenstein were the exceptions

Legal tickets: numerous manual procedural steps

As regards the issuance of legal tickets and the provision of security services, corresponding pre-printed forms (strictly chargeable printed material) were used. The original voucher remained with the drivers while the carbon copy was sent to the corresponding authorities. The distribution of the print material was carried out directly by the district authorities or the provincial police directorates. The ACA critically pointed to the numerous manual procedural steps and the administrative programmes that failed to correspond to the state of the art and precluded a modern and appropriate delivery of tasks. The ACA recommended to the Federal Ministry of the Interior to establish the already envisaged working group on legal tickets and security services as soon as possible and to increase its role based on the well-established cooperation in the framework of the project on administrative penal proceedings.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior and the provinces had jointly started a cooperation project on administrative penal proceedings, which, among others, consisted of working groups on IT-based administration of administrative penalties (also including traffic fines). This project had a fit-for-purpose and innovative approach for a cross-administrative development of IT projects. At the time of the audit, six provinces were participating in the project on administrative penal proceedings.

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Report: Traffic Fines

From November 2017 to April 2018, the Austrian Court of Audit carried out an audit of the processing and execution of traffic fines at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, in the provinces of Lower Austria and Upper Austria as well as at the Austrian road operator Autobahnen– und Schnellstraßen–Finanzierungs–Aktiengesellschaft (ASFINAG). The audit focused on the competences and procedures as well as on the inter-faces between the authorities and the citizens, the level of fines and penalties as well as the prosecution in the case of vehicles registered abroad. The audited period spanned the years from 2013 through 2017.