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DRIVING

Must I have a ‘CH sticker’ on my car when I leave Switzerland?

Some vehicles in Switzerland display the 'CH' sticker, while others don’t. But what exactly are the rules when you cross the border(s) in your car? This is what you should know.

Only cars with the CH sticker can travel abroad. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Only cars with the CH sticker can travel abroad. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

You may be surprised to learn (or perhaps not, as this is Switzerland, where there is law for practically everything), that the CH sticker is a requirement, not an option.

Article 45 of the OETV (Ordinance concerning the technical requirements for road vehicles) clearly states that all motor vehicles must display the oval, black-and-white sticker when leaving their home territory.

According to this legislation, all vehicles, including motorcycles, trucks, and trailers traveling abroad  “must bear a distinctive sign of nationality, i.e. the CH sticker, clearly visible on the rear of the vehicle”.

In other words, just as you must have a proof of your nationality when you leave the country, so must your car. Just be thankful that your passport or ID card are carried in your hand and not affixed to your rear.

To be clear, this legislation applies only to cars that travel abroad; if you never leave Switzerland at all, the sticker is not a requirement.

Actually, to be fair, the Swiss can’t be blamed entirely for this rule.

This obligation stems from the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, passed in 1968, which Switzerland has also ratified.

“This international treaty provides for the possibility of integrating the distinctive sign of nationality into the registration plate”, according to Touring Club Suisse (TCS) motoring organisation.

It appears, for reasons we are not privy to, that the red cross that is embossed onto all plates “does not meet the requirements of the Convention, so it is not recognised as a distinctive sign”, TCS added.

Therefore, “the CH sticker remains compulsory”.

READ MORE: Why does Switzerland use ‘CH’ and what does it mean?

What format should the sticker have?

This is what the law says:

  • Height x width of the oval: 11.5 x 17.5 cm
  • Height x width of the letters: 8 x 4 cm
  • Line thickness: 1 cm

This means the smaller versions of the sticker that you sometimes see on cars are not compliant.

Your car’s ‘passport’. Image: Wikicommons. 

What about the placement?

This too is regulated by law:

It must be affixed at the rear of the vehicle, horizontally to its main axis, between 20 cm and 1.50 m from the ground, depending on the type of vehicle.

It must also be clearly legible and unobstructed.

An important point to keep in mind is that while you yourself may have two passports, your car cannot be a dual national and have other stickers. If it resides permanently in Switzerland, it should bear the CH sign only.

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

Where can you purchase these stickers?

They can be bought for about 5 francs in a variety of places, such as petrol service stations, motoring sections of hardware stores like Hornbach and Jumbo, or do-it-yourself sections of Coop and Migros.

What are the fines for driving without a sticker abroad?

There is no official data about this, but according to TCS, “we know of people who have been fined during their stay abroad for the absence of a distinctive sign on the back of their vehicle. Complying with the law therefore makes it possible to avoid unpleasant surprises abroad”.

Is the CH sticker the only one required to be affixed to a Swiss car?

For foreign travel, yes.

But if you drive on Switzerland’s motorways, you must have a ‘ vignette’ on your windshield. It costs 40 francs.

The vignette must be replaced each year from January 1st, whereas the CH sticker is valid for life — the car’s, not yours.

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

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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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