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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 Swiss drivers should know if they commit driving offences abroad

The Swiss may be known for being sticklers for rules and regulations, but they don’t always obey them when driving abroad. But what happens if you get fined?

What Swiss drivers should know if they commit driving offences abroad

One such example recently reported in the media occurred in Como, an Italian town near the Swiss border, whose mayor decided to crack down on numerous drivers from Ticino who don’t pay for their parking.

The town even has a tow truck dedicated to the removal of Swiss cars that park “wherever they like”, including in no-parking zones.

The mayor, Alessandro Rapinese, decided to get tough on Swiss law-breakers because the value of unpaid parking fines given to Ticino motorists amounts to over 300,000 euros a year.

Rapinese added that he is a frequent visitor to Ticino, where “I always look for a legal parking spot and pay for it. It’s only fair”.

‘Subject to imprisonment’

If you think you can toss your foreign ticket away once you are safely back home in neutral Switzerland, and stay under the radar — figuratively speaking — you may be in for a rude awakening.

“Traffic fines issued abroad should always be paid, otherwise the issuing authority may take measures against the vehicle owner, even if they live in Switzerland”, the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) says on its website.

“Measures can include an entry in a search database, a ban on entering the country in future, or high reminder fees. If you return to the country concerned having failed to pay the fine, your car may be confiscated until the fine has been paid. You may even be subject to imprisonment for one or more days”.

READ MORE: What you should know about driving in Switzerland — and abroad — this summer
 

The severity of measures for the non-payment of fines varies from country to country.

This is what they are in neighbour nations, the most common destinations of Swiss motorists:

France

An agreement between Bern and Paris on parking and speeding offences states that each country must help the other in enforcing fines.

“This means the Swiss authorities can enforce the payment of fines issued by the French authorities to Swiss motorists, and vice versa. Electronic data is exchanged between the two countries,” Fedpol says.

Germany and Austria

Switzerland has also signed a police cooperation agreement with the two countries, which includes provisions on traffic legislation.

They all can — and do — exchange data on rule-breaking vehicles and vehicle owners.

Italy

Though there’s no agreement between Bern and Rome on mutual assistance in enforcing fines, you should nevertheless pay your traffic tickets on time, Fedpol says.

That’s because “Italian authorities impose very high reminder fees”, and some cities, like Milan and Florence, they are outsourcing the collection of fines to private companies.

Liechtenstein

It is difficult to speed through this principality, given its size — 27 km long and 14 km wide.

But if you want to whiz through it faster than the 25 minutes it usually takes to cross the country, or if you want to park somewhere you shouldn’t, then you will have to pay the fine, as Liechtenstein also has an agreement with Switzerland,  which contains detailed provisions on enforcing traffic fines.

Beyond the immediate neighbours, Fedpol also advises against evading fines issued in the Netherlands, as the cantonal police services in Switzerland and the Dienst Wegverkeer (RDW) in Zoetermeer, Holland, exchange information about offending motorists.

How can you pay for these foreign tickets?

If you are slapped with a fine directly, it is always best to pay on the spot, and get a receipt for your payment. This way you don’t have to worry about it anymore.

If you receive your fine by mail when you are already back in Switzerland, you can pay online or through a bank transfer, following directions on (or enclosed with) the ticket.

Beware of fake “fines”

 “If you doubt the authenticity of a fine or invoice from abroad, contact the foreign police or, depending on the sender, the municipality, the administration, or the private institution that sent the fine”, Fedpol notes.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties

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