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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: What you should do if you have a car accident in Switzerland

Whether you live in Switzerland or you are just visiting, a car accident can be incredibly stressful. Here’s what you should be aware of - and who’s responsible for what.

A crash test carried out by a Swiss insurance company. Photo by Pixabay
A crash test carried out by a Swiss insurance company. Photo by Pixabay

Switzerland’s roads may be windy, narrow and occasionally icy, but they are also very well maintained. 

As with anywhere though, there is always the risk of a car accident. 

Whether it is a serious crash or a minor scrape, this being Switzerland, there are many rules to follow which you should be aware of. 

Stay calm and assess the situation

First things first, make sure that everyone travelling in your car is OK. If the crash involves another vehicle or vehicle, stay calm and check on any others who may be injured. 

Put on your hazard lights and low beams – all drivers are required to have their low beams on when driving, even during the day. 

EXPLAINED: Weird Swiss laws you should be aware of

Move the car if it is in an unsafe position, i.e. on the motorway, but otherwise Swiss law states you shouldn’t move them in order for an accident report to be carried out. 

If you are on the road, move the car off the road if it can be moved, but otherwise don’t move it as people may think you are leaving the scene. 

Under Swiss law, everyone involved in an accident is required to stop and secure the scene. 

Most cars in Switzerland, including rental cars, will have fluorescent vests and a breakdown triangle in the boot or trunk of the car. 

A warning triangle on a road in winter

Set this triangle up far enough away from the crash site so other drivers will be aware. Image: Pixabay

Put on the vest and place the triangle at least 50 metres before the accident, or at least 100 metres on fast-moving roads. 

Taking photographs of all angles of the scene with your phone isn’t compulsory, but it may assist in the instance of a dispute. 

Make a note of the licence plate number and make of the car, along with the personal details of any other drivers involved in the accident. 

Take the contact details of any neutral witnesses, in case of a dispute. 

If you need to call for help, the rescue service can be reached at 144 and the fire brigade at 118.

The police can be reached at 117. 

You can also contact roadside assistance. 

EXPLAINED: How does roadside assistance work in Switzerland?

You have two years to make a claim for damages in Switzerland, after which claims are time barred. 

Who is responsible for what in a car accident in Switzerland? 

If anyone was injured, there is a requirement to call the police (see below). 

All parties involved are required to provide assistance, even for minor cuts and bruises. 

Even bystanders are required to provide assistance under Swiss law, inasmuch as it can be deemed reasonable for them to do so. 

In serious accidents, there is a criminal offence of failing to provide emergency assistance in the case of accidents with serious injuries, with fines and sentences of up to three years possible. 

Olivia Solari, an automotive law expert from AGVS, told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes that this does not extend to daring and dangerous rescue operations, which should always be conducted by a professional. 

Who do I need to make a report to?

Should you tell your insurance company? Do you need to tell the police? That depends on who is at fault and who is aware. 

Generally speaking, the person who is at fault should tell their insurance company. Their own insurance will handle damage to their car, while liability insurance will cover damage to another vehicle. 

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

If all parties involved in the accident agree, then you may not need to tell the police, although you are obliged to call the police in the instance of a personal injury. 

Generally speaking, anything more than minor damage to the bodywork should result in a call to the police, just to be on the safe side. 

However if the question of guilt is unclear at all, then you should call the police, who will make a report. This will allow the insurance companies to determine who is at fault. 

If you hit a parked car or cause an accident where another party or parties is unavailable, you should also call the police. If you don’t, you may be seen to be leaving the scene. 

You can also fill in a European accident report. While this is not compulsory in Switzerland, it is recommended. This report can be accessed here in many languages. 

READ MORE: Why your Swiss car insurance should contain a ‘weasel clause’

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For members

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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