Swiss consider dropping legal driving age to 16

Swiss federal authorities are considering allowing young people to drive from the age of 16, provided they are accompanied by adults 30 years or older.

Swiss consider dropping legal driving age to 16
Accompanied driver sticker used in France

The proposal is one of the ideas to improve training of drivers discussed by officials this summer, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper reported.

The federal office of highways is set to draw up a list of recommendations by the end of the year, including the scheme for 16-year-olds.

Drivers in Switzerland are currently only allowed to receive a driver’s permit from the age of 18.

But groups such as the Touring Club Suisse (TCS) have been promoting the idea of allowing younger drivers, as long as they are accompanied by older adults with good driving records.

Under the proposal, those accompanying the youths would have to follow a specific training course.

Mauro Poggia, a federal MP from Geneva, filed a motion in December 2012 proposing the introduction of such a programme, saying that it has several advantages.

“It develops certain skills in traffic, notably the anticipation of danger,” Poggia is quoted as saying by Le Matin.

“Without forgetting that, if the youth behind the wheel is accompanied by his father or mother it can reinforce family ties.”

Other supporters of the proposal point to how similar programmes introduced in Germany and France have led to fewer accidents.

In France, youths from the age of 16 are permitted to drive with someone accompanying them who is at least 23-years-old and has held a driving permit for at least five years with an unblemished record.

The youth must first take an initial course from a driving school and subsequently has to take a course and pass a test at the age of 18.

In Germany, it is possible to have a driver’s permit from the age of 17 if the person is accompanied by a driver who is at least 30 years old with a clean record.

Britain is the only country in Europe where youths can obtain a permit to drive unaccompanied at the age of 17.

Critics of the proposal under study in Bern say that Swiss roads are already too crowded and accelerating the number of potential additional motorists — 40,000 a year — doesn’t make any sense.

It goes against programmes that encourage young people to take public transport, detractors say.

Opponents also question whether 16-year-olds are sufficiently mature to be piloting vehicles that can be lethal weapons if driven irresponsibly.

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Reader question: Can I take the Swiss driving test in English?

There are quite a few things to learn and remember when taking an exam for a driver’s licence, and it's even more daunting in a foreign language. These are the rules in Switzerland.

Reader question: Can I take the Swiss driving test in English?

Whether you’re learning to drive in Switzerland or already have a licence from your home country but have to exchange it for a Swiss one (as you must do after 12 months of residency), you will have to take a test — certainly in the former case and likely in the latter one.

The rule is that if your licence was issued by a EU or EFTA country (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), you’ll be able to get a Swiss licence without having to take a driving test.

READ MORE: How to change over to a Swiss driver’s licence

This also generally applies to countries with which Switzerland has concluded an agreement to mutually recognise each others’ licences: Andorra, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Morocco,  Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan, Tunisia, and the United States.

Nationals of all other countries — that is, whose foreign driver’s licences can’t be automatically exchanged for a Swiss one — will have to take a test.

What you should know:

The Swiss driving test includes a written exam and a practical road test. There is no such thing as a national test, with each canton administering tests and issuing licences (which, of course, are then valid across the country).

Applications for the theory and the practical exams are made at your local Road Traffic Office (Strassenverkehrsamt in German, Office Cantonal des Automobiles et de la Navigation in French, and Servizio della circolazione e della navigazione in Italian). 

Addresses and contact information for each cantonal office can be found here.

Can you take the test in English?

In most cantons, theory exams are given in one of the national languages (German, French and Italian). Only a few — Bern, Glarus, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Neuchâtel, Schwyz, Vaud and Zurich — offer the theory test in English.

If you don’t live in one of these nine cantons and you are not fluent enough in German/French/Italian to take the test, a translator may be present, but only one who is certified by your local Road Traffic Office. Contact the department to ask where and how to find a suitable interpreter.

As for the practical driving test, you can request an English-speaking examiner, but there is no guarantee that you’ll get one.

EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties

At the very least, you should learn basic driving terms — such as right and left turns, lane change, parking instructions, etc. — in the local language.

These will be taught to you if you take your driving lessons in German, French, or Italian (rather than English), which may prove more difficult to begin with, but will prove useful when the time comes to pass your exams.