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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties

A ticket for breaking traffic rules is one souvenir you definitely don’t want to bring back from your travels through Switzerland. Here’s what you should know about the country’s driving rules.

EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties
Never, ever do this in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

If you are planning to drive through Switzerland, you will be pleasantly surprised: the roads are excellent and the countryside spectacular (actually, these things are not that surprising; this is after all, Switzerland).

But while you are taking in all this beauty, don’t forget the basic driving rules that prevail throughout the country, regardless of linguistic regions.

Car sticker

The very first thing you will need upon entry is a special sticker called a ‘vignette’ which you affix to your windshield.

Even if you are only planning to drive through Switzerland on the way to somewhere else or just visit for a few days, you still need a sticker for the current year to use the country’s motorways. 

You can purchase the vignette for 40 francs at border crossings, petrol stations and  post offices. You can also buy it online.

If you are caught driving without it on motorways (but not on local roads), you will have to pay a fine of 200 francs. 

Worse yet, if you are caught forging a vignette, you could be slapped with a three-year prison sentence — a longer ‘holiday’ that you probably planned. 

READ MORE: Swiss vignette: What you need to know about Switzerland’s motorway charge sticker

Speeding

As almost everywhere else in the world, you must comply with speed limits on Swiss roads.

The maximum allowed speed is determined by the roads and areas in which you travel.

On motorways it is 120 km/hour, reduced to 100 km / hour on main roads (Autostrassen / semi-autoroutes / semiautostrade).

On roads in built-up areas located outside towns the speed is 80 km / hour, and in the cities, 50 km /hour.

Then there are some streets near schools, in residential areas or in villages, where the speed is reduced to 30 km / hour.

Speed limits can also be temporarily adjusted in the event of road repairs or construction work.

The amount of your fine will depend on where you are caught and how fast you were driving.

If you exceed the speed limit by up to 5 km / hour, your fine will be 20 francs on the motorway and 40 francs if the infraction happened on main or secondary roads.

The fine for driving between 6 and 10 km / hour over the legal limit is 60 francs on the motorway, 100 on the main roads, and 120 francs in built-up areas.

Driving 11 to 15 km/hour over the maximum speed will cost you 120 francs on the motorway, 160 on the main road, and 250 in built-up areas.

Exceeding the limit by over 16 to 20 km/hour gets you in more trouble: 180 francs on the motorway and 240 on the main road. But if you get caught dashing at this speed through a built-up area, you will be issued a heftier fine or a summons to appear in court.

You will receive a payment slip by registered letter, which will also include a form to fill out. You will be asked whether you or someone else was the driver.

Designating someone else as the guilty party may backfire, however. More often than not, your infraction is caught on camera, showing who the speeding driver is.

If you are speeding in a rented vehicle, then the fine will be sent to the rental agency and added onto your credit card.

The message here is clear: there is no way of escaping a fine for a speeding infraction — no matter how fast you try to escape!

More information about speeding fines can be found here:

EXPLAINED: What you should know about speeding fines in Switzerland

Trying to beat a yellow light

Tourists from the United States, who are accustomed to long yellow lights which are common in that country, may attempt to drive through it on Swiss roads.

But here, yellow lights last only seconds, so if you try to beat them, it is more than likely that you will end up hitting a red light instead.

Red light tickets are expensive — they can cost you up to 250 francs — so be aware of it when approaching a light at an intersection and stop well before yellow changes to red.

By the same token, lights in Switzerland often change from red to yellow to green rather than directly from red to green. You should not start driving on yellow, however, but wait until changes to green.

Crossing a solid line

Say you have a slow-moving vehicle ahead of you on a secondary road and want to pass it. You must wait for a dotted line on the road (and make sure nobody is coming from the opposite direction) before crossing and overtaking the slow car.

Doing so on a solid line can cost you up to 350 francs.

Parking

You can leave your vehicle in designated public parking spaces, which should go without saying, but we are saying it nevertheless.

If you double-park, blocking another vehicle from leaving, or leave your car in a private spot or on the space designated for deliveries as well as loading / unloading of commercial merchandise, your car could be towed away at your own charge. You will also have to pay administrative fees on top of that, the amount of which will depend on the municipality where the infraction happened.

The only exception to this rule is that parking spaces usually reserved for deliveries / loading / unloading are free to use on Sundays and public holidays.

In terms of exceeding your parking time (paid at public meters), the fee is usually 40 francs, the same as putting the wrong arrival time on your parking discs in blue parking zones.

Headlights on while driving

All motor vehicles with the exception of  mopeds, e-bikes and bicycles, as well as cars that were registered before 1970, must have their headlights on during daylight hours.

Failure to do so will cost you 40 francs.

Driving drunk

It should come as no surprise to anyone from any country that driving under the influence is not only illegal but also dangerous.

In Switzerland, the maximum permitted alcohol level while driving is 0.5%.

If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances, your fines will be hefty, depending on how much alcohol is found in your blood and whether you have committed any traffic infractions while drunk.

Fines depend on your blood alcohol level but begin in the higher three-digit range and go up accordingly.

Calling / texting while driving

Just as the case with drunk driving, this is another “accident waiting to happen” category, also known as “distracted driving”.

Using ‘hands-free’ system while driving is fine, but if you hold the phone to your ear and drive with one hand, expect a 100-franc fine.

Some things to know while driving in Switzerland:

The zipper principle

No, not that zipper.

Since 2021, zipping — which keeps traffic flowing by bringing order and organisation to the merging process — should be applied as soon as a lane on the freeway is closed. Drivers use both lanes to the point of closure, then alternate, zipper-like, into the open lane

This will makes traffic flow more smoothly and prevents delays caused by changing lanes too early.

Roundabouts

The Swiss love these traffic circles and you will find many of them throughout the country.

If you are not sure what the rules are, vehicles on left always have priority.

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

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DRIVING

What to do if you have a car accident in Switzerland?

An accident is not on anyone’s ‘to-do’ list, but sometimes bad things unfortunately happen to good people. These are the steps to take if you are involved in a road accident in Switzerland.

What to do if you have a car accident in Switzerland?

Of course, nobody plans on a car accident, with many of us thinking it’ll never happen to us. Even if you are a safe driver, you could still be a victim of an accident caused by another person.

Nearly 18,000 traffic accidents involving injuries  had been reported in Switzerland in 2020 — the last year for which official data is available. Fortunately, the vast majority were relatively minor; over 3,700 people were seriously injured and 227 were killed.

The only bright spot among these grim statistics is that the number of car accidents has dropped considerably — by 62 percent —  in the past two decades.

EXPLAINED: How does roadside assistance work in Switzerland? 

What should you do if you are involved in an accident?

If this happens, it is normal that you might get nervous, stressed out and feel in a state of shock, possibly forgetting how to act and what to do.

The steps to take are the same whether you or the other driver(s) are at fault. According to motoring organisation Touring Club Suisse, this is what you must do immediately after a traffic accident.

Stop and keep calm

This is easier said than done but it is essential that you keep a cool head.

  • First, turn on your distress signals
  • Determine the number of vehicles involved, their positions and the nature of the accident
  • Secure the scene of the accident by installing the warning triangle at least 50 metres (approximately 60 paces) from the scene of the accident. Note to self: make sure you have these triangles in the trunk of your car.

Make an accident report in writing

Describe the course of the accident with the help of the European accident report. If you don’t already have this document, you can download it here.

Always keep this document in the glove compartment of your vehicle: hopefully, you will never need it, but it is  better to be prepared.

In the best-case scenario, everyone involved in the accident can stay polite or, in the very least, civil. All parties can then fill out the accident report together, with each person signing it.

Taking photos of the damage is always helpful.

Declare the accident to the insurance company

Don’t repair your vehicle until after your insurance company has examined it.

If you are at fault, your insurance will settle with the other driver(s)’ insurance; if the other party is responsible, then your carrier with seek compensation from the other policyholders.

READ MORE: Which Swiss canton has the worst drivers?

When should you call emergency services?

Traffic accidents are common and most are minor, not requiring an intervention from emergency services or law enforcement.

However, one or the other (or both) should be called if:

  • You or other people involved are injured (ambulance number: 144)
  • There is a risk of fire or explosion: call the fire department (118)
  • When an argument or a fight erupts among the parties involved in the accident, call police (117).

What equipment should you always have in your car?

In Switzerland, you are only required to have the triangle, according to TCS. Safety vests are not obligatory but it is good to have one nevertheless, as they are compulsory in many other European countries, including Switzerland’s neighbours.

This map shows where the vests are required:

Countries marked in yellow require safety vests. Image: TCS

Another very important thing to know before you even hit the road (though hopefully not literally): car insurance is mandatory in Switzerland, even if it is only the basic one that doesn’t cover your own vehicle, but covers others.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about car insurance in Switzerland

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