SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TRAVEL NEWS

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

In many Swiss cantons, school holidays begin on Saturday, which means there will be traffic and bottlenecks. These are some things to remember before you hit the road.

What you should know about driving in Switzerland — and abroad — this summer
Holiday traffic on European roads can be very heavy. Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP

As The Local reported on June 28th, with flight cancellations and other disruptions expected at Swiss and European airports this summer — not to mention soaring air fares — many people are opting to remain in Europe, driving, rather than flying, to their holiday destinations.

Given all these impediments to air travel, “we assume that vacations by car will be more popular than ever this summer”, according to Jürg Wittwer, director of Touring Club Suisse (TCS) motoring organisation.

A good thing to know to avoid being stuck in a bottleneck is the Swiss traffic calendar indicating high-traffic days. “Light” days are listed in pink/orange, while very high traffic volumes are listed in red. 

READ MORE : The roads and dates to avoid driving in Switzerland this summer

You should also know which roads are usually most congested during high-volume times and avoid them:

  • The A3/A1 Basel-Zurich axis
  • The A3/A13 Zurich-Chur-San Bernardino-Bellinzona-Chiasso axis, particularly near Chur and the San Bernardino tunnel
  • Bern and surroundings (A1/A12/A6 interchange)
  • The A9 Lausanne-Montreux-Martigny-Brigue mainly near Lausanne and Montreux
  • The Martigny – Grand-St.-Bernard tunnel axis

You can avoid these bottlenecked routes by taking alternative roads, which may require a detour and are longer in terms on kilometres, but they are likely to get you to your destinations quicker.

If you are going to be driving exclusively in Switzerland, there are a few rules you should keep in mind (you likely know them already, but a reminder never hurts):

Vignette 

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. 

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.

Driving in Switzerland: Which canton has the highest speeding fines?

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!

Headlights

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.

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.

You can find out about other Swiss traffic rules here:

EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties

And this is what you should know if you are driving abroad

Anticipate heavy traffic and bottlenecks on the roads leading towards Italy, France, Spain and Portugal — the most popular vacation spots for tourists from Switzerland.

Knowing the traffic rules of the country you are going to (or driving through) can make the journey easier and more pleasant. For instance, according to AXA insurance:

  • In Austria, you can pre-pay motorway tolls online, which should save you time by not having to queue up.
  • In Italy, “foreign vehicles can be seized on the spot if you can’t pay a fine”, so make sure you have the means to do so if you commit an infraction.
  • In France, if you exceed the speed limit by 40 kilometres per hour or more on the motorway, “the police are authorised to seize your driver’s license on the spot”. It is then forwarded to the Swiss authorities where legal  proceedings will await your return.

Wittwer also warned of possible problems in the event of a breakdown, as services abroad have too few personnel to cope with the influx of tourists.

“Also, international supply chains don’t work. So there is a lack of spare parts. Repairs can therefore take a long time”, he said.

Passports

If you are driving within the Schengen area, chances are you will not have to stop for an identity check at any borders, though random controls can happen.

But if you venture farther afield into non-Schengen territory (including the UK), be prepared for passport checks, which may slow you down at border crossings.

This is a list of countries that don’t belong to the Schengen zone.

Also, an important thing to know is that all vehicles registered in Switzerland, including motor homes and motorcycles, must display the oval, black-and-white CH sticker on the rear when travelling on foreign roads.

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

READ MORE : Do I need a ‘CH sticker’ on my car when I leave Switzerland?

Last but not least, if you want to keep abreast of the traffic situation on European roads, this link will help.

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it also has a great location right in the centre of Europe, making it an ideal starting point for train travel. Here are five destinations you can reach in less than five hours from Zurich.

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

As summer is still in full swing and there are many vacation days (or free weekends) to enjoy the sunny weather, it’s not the wrong time to do some travelling. Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it’s also centrally located in Europe. This means that many major European cities are reachable in just a few hours.

If you are located in Zurich, for example, then you are very near Germany, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. In less than five hours, visiting beautiful cities in these five countries is possible by taking a comfortable train ride.

So, select your final destination, get your ticket, and enjoy the ride.

READ ALSO: Switzerland’s ten most beautiful villages you have to visit

From Zurich to Strasbourg

It will take you just about 2 hours and 30 minutes (including time to stop and change trains in Basel) to get from Zurich’s mains station to the beautiful and historical city of Strasbourg, in northeast France.

Prices vary depending on several factors, but we found one-way tickets for just around CHF 23 on a Friday.

From Zurich to Munich

The capital of Bavaria can be reached from Zurich’s central station on a direct train in just 3 hours 30 minutes, allowing for short stays.

Munich may seem quite far away on a map, but the fast trains without stopovers actually make the journey quick and pleasant. We found one-way tickets for around CHF 70 on a Friday trip.

From Zurich to Vaduz

The capital of Liechtenstein is easy to reach in less than 2 hours from the Zurich central station. In fact, some journeys will take just about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The lovely town bordering Switzerland has many tourist attractions, from its pedestrian historical centre to castles and parks. Train ticket prices always vary, but we found tickets for a one-way journey on a Friday costing CHF 20.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

From Zurich to Milan

Depending on the train you take, you can get from Zurich to Italy’s fashion capital in three to four hours with a direct train.

Before 2016, when the Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened to rail traffic, a trip from Zurich to Milan took an hour longer. It’s possible to find tickets for about CHF 70 for a one-way trip on a Friday.

From Zurich to Innsbruck

From Zurich, it is possible to hop on a direct train and, in just over 3 hours and 30 minutes, arrive in the beautiful town of Innsbruck, in the mountains of Tyrol.

Ticket costs vary, but we found tickets for a relatively short-notice one-way trip on a Friday (without discounts) for CHF 84.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Cost:

Fares depend on several factors, such as time of the day and day of the week when you travel.

While a rock-bottom cheap fare may be available one day in the morning, it won’t necessarily be offered the next day (or week) in the afternoon, or vice-versa.

Prices also depend on whether you are entitled to any discounts and which wagon you choose.

If you are interested in travelling farther afield, including with night trains, or if you are in other Swiss cities, these articles provide more information:

SHOW COMMENTS