The three important rules for driving on Switzerland’s snowy roads

Winter driving in Switzerland can be hazardous if your vehicle is not properly equipped. Here is what you should know before you drive in snowy weather.

The three important rules for driving on Switzerland's snowy roads
Switzerland wants you to use environmentally friendly products to de-ice the car. Photo by AFP

This information comes from Touring Club Suisse (TCS), the largest motoring organisation in Switzerland. 

There is no legal obligation to outfit your car with winter tires

This is a contradiction of sorts because while the law doesn’t require winter tires, it states that the driver must be able to maintain control of the vehicle at all times and in all circumstances, and the car must be adapted to the weather conditions.

If you choose not to put on winter tires and get into an accident, your insurance could reduce your compensation. And in the event that the accident was your fault, the insurance company can claim against you for negligence.

If you do use winter tires, keep in mind that the minimum tread required by law is 1.6 mm, but 4 mm is recommended.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What you should know about speeding fines in Switzerland 

If there’s snow and ice on mountain roads, your car must be fitted with chains

However, you are obligated to put on chains only when there are signs marked “Mandatory snow chains”. The chains must allow starting, braking and lateral guidance on snow and ice.

It is recommended to chain at least two of the driving wheels on the same axle and never exceed the speed of 50 km / h.

Failure to comply with the obligation to use snow chains may cost you 100 francs.

Remove snow and ice from the car before hitting the road

This should be self-evident, yet many drivers neglect to properly clear the snow from the roof and hood, and defrost their windshield, windows, mirrors, and headlights, to ensure optimum visibility.

Snow falling from the roof represents a danger for the other vehicles on the road, and you could be fined 200 francs if stopped by police.

But in a typical Swiss fashion, you can’t use just any products to de-ice the car, as the government specifies they must “respect the environment”. 

The Federal Office for the Environment lists the ingredients that should be used for defrosting purposes.

Whether you drive in winter or any other season, Switzerland has new traffic rules that went into effect on January 1st.

You can see them here.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What changes on Switzerland's roads in 2021? 

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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.