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In which parts of Switzerland are you most likely to lose your driving licence –and why?

It’s official: the French-speaking cantons have record rates of driving licence confiscations. How do the other regions fare?

In which parts of Switzerland are you most likely to lose your driving licence –and why?
Most driving infractions are for speeding and alcohol. Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP

According to the latest data released by the Federal Roads Office (OFROU), drivers in Neuchâtel top the chart when it comes to the number of licence confiscations, while the German-speaking cantons of Uri and Appenzell Innerrhoden have the lowest number of recorded driving offences.

Of the 122,000 holders of a driving licence in Neuchâtel, 2,150 were imposed a driving ban in 2018, the last year for which statistics are available. With 17.6 confiscations per 1,000 drivers, this represents the highest rate in Switzerland.

To explain the high number of confiscations in Neuchâtel, Philippe Burri, the director of the canton’s official automobile service told RTS television that “the geographic location of the canton leads to a higher number of kilometres traveled by its residents than in other cantons”. 

The mostly rural canton is located in the west of Switzerland between Neuchâtel lake and the French border.

What about the cantons with a high concentration of internationals?

Geneva, Zurich, and Basel fare better than Neuchâtel, with about 12.1 licence confiscations per 1,000 drivers, and in Zug that number is just over 11.

But Vaud had a whooping 16.2 confiscations per 1,000 motorists, which was enough to see the canton ranked second after Neuchâtel.

READ MORE: Driving in Switzerland after Brexit: Here’s what you need to know 

What are the main reasons for licence suspensions?

In some cantons, like Fribourg, St. Gallen, Vaud, Geneva, and, yes, Neuchâtel, excessive speed was behind the confiscations.

Speed limits are 120 km on Swiss motorways, 50 km in cities, and 30 km in school zones.

Fribourg drivers may have been in a rush because they cover the most distance —34.2 kilometres per day. But the same cannot be said of Genevans, whose motorised journeys are among the shortest in Switzerland.

The second main reason why drivers lose their licences is, not surprisingly, alcohol.

Motorists in Valais, one of the country’s largest wine producing cantons, were most often sanctioned for driving under the influence, exceeding the 0,5 percent blood alcohol limit for drivers in Switzerland, which is in line with most other European nations.

Drivers in Ticino and Jura are in second and third place, respectively.

Those in Basel and Schwyz, however, are the most diligent about driving sober.

Another recent study showed that Geneva holds the Swiss per-capita record for the number of alcohol-related car accidents, but Valais also placed high.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s roads are among the safest in the world


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For members


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.