Following a few answers to questions you might have about driving in Switzerland:
Switzerland is small and 7.8 mio people move around in limited space, so traffic jams are frequent, especially in agglomerations, cities and on motorways. Driving too fast is sometimes not even an option, but this does lead to road rage once in a while.
Cities were built before motoring came into the occasion. Therefore, city streets can be pretty narrow and parking is limited. It can get confusing if you are not familiar with the place. Most of my guests from overseas are glad when they don't have to drive. To avoid city driving, use the so-called P&R (Park and Ride) - parking with access to public transportation at the city's periphery.
Overall, road conditions are excellent, and Switzerland is amongst the countries with the least accidents. But driving in the Alps can be quite challenging. It's pretty much going up and down and around corners all the time. Stretches of roads can be one way and not all roads are paved in an alpine setting. 53% of accidents occur on secondary roads. You might want to think twice before driving in Switzerland. The public transport system is excellent and brings you to almost every corner. To avoid paying full price, check out the rail pass options.
On the other hand, driving in the Alps adds a tad of excitement. A road trip through the Swiss Alps could be that place to enjoy a ride in a sports car or flick up passes on a motorbike. After all, what good is a Porsche or a Moto Guzzi on flat land?
To avoid confusion about road types, I use the following description (E/G/F/I):
You don't need an international diver's licence.
However, the police has to be able to read it to verify if your driver's licence is up to date. Therefore, if your driver's licence is not in one of our official languages - French, German, Italian - or English, you need an international driver's licence along with your regular licence. If you can't obtain one in your country, a certified translation in one of the aforementioned languages will be accepted.
The motorway tax sticker costs CHF 40. As long as you only drive on secondary and residential roads, you don't need the motorway tax sticker.
The motorway tax sticker can be purchased at gas- and rest stops on main roads leading to Switzerland (close to customs), in post offices in Germany, European automobile clubs, directly at the custom entry point or online from Switzerland Travel Centre.
Don't forget to stick the motorway vignette at the inside of your windshield or you risk a fine, even if you have the sticker with you. Motorbikes stick it onto a non-removable part of their bike. If you don't use the sticker, you won't get a refund. Stickers are not transferable.
A toll is charged when driving through the Great Saint Bernard tunnel (from Martigny in the Canton Valais, Switzerland, to Aosta in Italy).
Speed limits are implemented rigorously; speed controls take place regularly, and radar traps are frequent. Be prepared to pay fines for speeding or other traffic offenses on the spot.
All uniformed police officers can carry out traffic surveillance and are authorized to issue on-the-spot fines.
Fasten your seat belt at all times, mandatory front and back.
Do not drive in flip-flops or barefoot. It's not prohibited per see, but it could get expensive if you cause an accident because of not wearing proper shoes.
We drive on the right and overtake on the left, then return to the right lane (on multiple lane roads). It is not allowed to overtake on the right, even if the left lane is blocked by a slower driver.
Lights are mandatory to use at all times, even during the day.
Be aware that pedestrians have the absolute right of way on crosswalks (Zebra crossings) in cities, towns and villages when they are not controlled by traffic lights. In residential areas with speed limits of 20kph/12mph, pedestrians have right of way at all tmes.
When renting a car, be aware that most cars still have manual transmissions. Even if you think that this is no big deal, read what a visitor and experienced driver from overseas has to say about it.
Helmets are required for all motorized two-wheelers, for tricycles (trikes) and quads.
Drivers must make sure by using a cage or a grid that animals do not disturb while driving.
There's no minimum age or height for a child to ride in the front seat. However, children under the age of 12 and under 150cm (59 inches), must be secured on all seats by a children's retaining device according to ECE regulation 44.
The same security regulations for children and babies apply for taxi rides. Not all taxis provide children's devices. Let them know when you order a taxi.
There are over 1340 mobility stations throughout Switzerland. Approximately 2600 cars are available for pick up. You can become a mobility member even if you don't live in Switzerland. A valid email address is all you need to register. Want to know how it works? Click here.
Using cell phones are only allowed with a hands-free device. Texting is not allowed. Fines are steep.
That depends on your preference. Signage and road maps in Switzerland are excellent. Road maps are available online, in book stores, at gasoline stations, kiosks and in stores.
Road signs can be quite different from country to country. However, most of them are either quite similar to those in most countries or at least sufficient self-explanatory. The roads are well signed throughout Switzerland. When driving into a city, signs lead you easily to town centre, train stations, hotels and main points of interest.
Meaning of a few shapes of signs:
Taking car trains is quite common, convenient and congestion-free. Most of the time, you avoid a considerable detour and save travel time.
"Autoverlad" (car-train) is always possible in both directions:
The price difference for gasoline between North America and Switzerland is not as big as it was just a few years ago. And it's actually cheaper than in most neighbouring countries.
You can save money by renting a small or diesel car.
All grades of unleaded petrol and diesel are available (no leaded gas available). Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. If your debit card works for bank machines in Switzerland, most likely the card will also work on automatic gas pumps outside opening hours. It's good to let your bank know that you will be travelling abroad, especially when you don't travel very often. Otherwise, your bank could stop payments for security reasons.
The prices fluctuate depending on season and where you fill your tank. Diesel is a little more expensive than unleaded gasoline. Price examples end of 2015: between CHF 1.48 and CHF 1.54 (Source: TCS Automobile club Switzerland).
When you see the sign "Ketten obligatorisch" (Chains obligatory), chains have to be fitted or you risk a fine. In that case, snow socks are not enough.
Pay attention to the weather forecast when going on a longer journey through Switzerland. It can snow in higher altitudes even in summer which can lead to closing roads over passes for security reasons for a few hours or days.
If possible, move the car to the side of the road. Place the red warn triangle to warn traffic.
When an accident with a motorized vehicle or bicycle occurs, all those involved must stop immediately. If necessary, regulate the traffic. Only change the position of casualties for safety reason and to facilitate traffic before the police arrive. The original position of the accident must be marked on the road.
Call the police if there is an injury (external or possible internal injuries). If the driver is not able to make the call him- or her herself, please assist:
It is not necessary to call the police when there are only scratches or bruises. However, if a person involved wishes to call the police, although there is no obligation to do so, those involved must remain at the scene until dismissed by the police.
Any accident involving wild animals has to be reported to the police.
Or you can call 163. Although the service is only trilingual G/F/I and costs CHF 0.90 per minute.
Radio and Television provide news about weather and extreme road conditions in regular intervals.
Also, check the weather forecast: Meteo Switzerland.
Many Alpine passes are closed during winter.
If the roads are prone for changing conditions, for example pass crossings, exposed stretches and so on, signs inform about the road condition directly before you are heading that direction, be that about unexpected snow and rock fall or maintenance/building activities.
Switzerland is small and chances are that you will cross borders at some point.
Crossing borders into neighbouring countries is no problem at all. Occasionally, border control will stop you and ask if you have anything to declare. Make sure you know the regulations of each country. Upon returning to Switzerland the same applies. At the time of writing this, you can import goods and presents valued at CHF 300 in total, but please do check the newest regulations on the official Government website.
Please be aware that when a friend lends you his or her car you will not be able to cross borders into neighbouring countries unless the car owner is with you. If he or she is not with you then you will have to pay import duty taxes depending on the value of the car - on the spot - or custom will confiscate the car, no matter which border you cross: Germany, Austria, Italy or France (except Liechtenstein).
Also, let rental companies know when you plan to leave Switzerland by car at one point, and even if it is just for a day trip. Most likely they will have their cars officially registered in all of Europe. However, insurance could be more expensive if you drive to Italy and you will need an International driver's license.
When you intend driving to France, check the latest news about carrying a Breathalyzer. You won't necessarily get fined since that law was stopped in 2013. More info here.
The same road signs apply to cyclists. Cycling is very popular in Switzerland. You'll find well-marked cycling routes throughout. Bicycles can be rented at most railway stations.
In larger cities such as Bern, Geneva, and Zürich you can even rent bikes free of charge (security depot applies). For a day pass of 10 CHF you can rent bicycles in Lausanne, Yverdon and Copet (along Lake Geneva) through Public Bike. Be aware, that the city of Lausanne is quite steep, though biking along Lake Geneva is a pleasure.
As soon as children go to school, they are allowed to drive their bikes on roads for motorized traffic. No mandatory test, but they have to be aware of the rules and know the road signs.
All bicycles have to be equipped with a front white light and a back red light,
Wearing a helmet is not compulsory, but recommended.
Private liability insurance is mandatory for pedal-assisted electronic bikes (e-bikes) for up to a speed limit of 25km per hour. For faster e-bikes you need a drivers licence (category M), insurance and licence plate as you would for motorbikes. Wearing a helmet is mandatory.
Children not yet 14 are not allowed to drive an e-bike.
Swiss road signs © ASTRA
This page was last updated October 2015
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