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Thousands drive without permit in Switzerland

Some 3,500 drivers in Switzerland are behind the wheel without a permit, according to statistics from the federal highways office (ASTRA).

Thousands drive without permit in Switzerland
Photo: Paul Hamilton

The figure, reported by newspaper Neue Luzerner Zeitung on Wednesday, has been on the rise over the last few years.

It includes drivers of cars and motorbikes who have never passed a test and those whose permit has been taken away by police.

The statistics show that those under 25 are more likely to take the risk of driving without a permit.

The ASTRA figures only include those who have been caught, so the true number of unlicensed drivers could be much higher, writes the newspaper.

Neither does it include the estimated 8,000 new drivers with invalid temporary permits, a problem reported by The Local in January.

In Switzerland's two-tier permit system new drivers must complete two mandatory courses within two years of passing the practical test, but many fail to do so.

Nevertheless, the number of unlicensed drivers in Switzerland is nothing on neighbouring France, where official figures estimate between 300,000 and 450,000 people are driving without a permit.

One specialist told Neue Luzerner Zeitung that the true figure for unlicensed drivers in l’Hexagone could be as high as 2.7 million.

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DRIVING

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.

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