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Why Switzerland’s roads are among the safest in the world

Despite steep alpine roads and an extensive network of tunnels, Switzerland’s roads rank as some of the safest in the world.

Why Switzerland’s roads are among the safest in the world
Photo: Depositphotos

A report released in January 2020 revealed that Switzerland’s roads are safe – and getting safer. 

Only three countries in the world have a lower death rate on their roads – Singapore, Ireland and Sweden – while only two countries have a lower risk of death in the instance of a road injury (Slovenia and New Zealand). 

This means that not only are Swiss roads safe, but health and emergency services infrastructure are also excellent. 

Image: Depositphotos

“Important protection measures”

Guido Bielmann, a spokesperson for Swiss federal roads authority FEDRO, told The Local that road safety policies – particularly the launching of the Via Sicura action plan – were behind Switzerland’s safe roads. 

“The Swiss Federal Council began in 2008 with project of Via Sicura, to make safer the Swiss roads,” Bielmann said. 

“The measures for traffic safety included behaviour in traffic, infrastructure-security [and] prevention… important prevention measures were defined. 

READ: How crossing a road in the Swiss capital of Bern is about to change 

“By these measures, the existing laws and rules should be enforced and the accident black spots should be eliminated.

“On high-ways the maximal speed is 120 km/h.”

While the project – which means 'Street Safety' in Italy – can be seen as a complete success, Bielmann notes that road safety has been increasing in Switzerland for decades. 

“In 1971, 1700 persons died in traffic accidents on Swiss roads. In 2016 there were 216. Conclusion: Via Sicura is really justified.”

Via Sicura

The initiative takes into account general road safety initiatives as well as specifically tailored policies which target Switzerland’s unique topography and challenges.  

Higher punishments and better detection systems have been implemented for drink driving and other unsafe behaviour like speeding.

READ: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

Similarly, monitoring systems for accident black spots – as well as a regular audit system – have been put in place. 

Image: Depositphotos

Bielmann told The Local that drivers needed to be aware of the unique topography of the country – and remember to always drive carefully. 

“It is important to know that Swiss topography is complicated (tunnels, bridges, curves) and traffic-density is high,” he said. 

“So, driving carefully is very important. The measures help people to be more careful.”

A worldwide improvement in road safety

The report, prepared by the American Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), looked at road mortality across the globe from 1990 until the present day. 

Switzerland was among 170 of the 175 countries to see improvements in road safety over the three decade period. 

Only the Central African Republic, Jamaica, Somalia, Swaziland, and United Arab Emirates have seen their roads become less safe. 

The authors of the report said the positive results showed policy makers were making progress in understanding the nature of safer roads. 

“Many factors affect the risk of road injuries, including vehicle and road safety and engineering; enforcement of speeding, seatbelt, and alcohol laws; and access to medical care,” said Spencer James, the lead research scientist with the IHME. 

“It’s encouraging to find improvements globally in road injury mortality over the past three decades, though there is still considerable progress to be made since road injuries should be considered preventable.”

Despite the improvements, 54 million people were injured in road accidents in 2017 – with 1.2 million deaths. 

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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.