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Driving in Switzerland
A Road Trip Planner for Safer Driving


my first lesson driving in Switzerland My first driving lesson
Driving in Switzerland is not much different from driving in any other European country.

Switzerland is small and 7.8 mio people move around in limited space, so traffic jams are frequent, especially in agglomerations, cities and also 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, and instead take advantage of the excellent public transport system.

On the other hand, driving in the Alps adds a tad of excitement to the occasion. 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?

Getting around in this country is expensive, no matter which mode of transportation you choose. Renting a car could cut travel expenses a little if you travel in a group of friends or as a family.


To avoid confusion about road types, I use the following description (E/G/F/I):

  • Motorway (freeway, expressway) for Autobahn/Autoroute/Autostrada
  • Highway (secondary roads) for Hauptstrasse/Rue principale/Strada principale
  • Rural roads (secondary roads) for Nebenstrassen/Routes hors localité/Strade extraurbane principale.
  • Residential streets for Innerorts/Rue localité/Strada località
  • Residential zones for smaller areas within a city, town or village with a high-density population, school zones etc.

Following a few answers to questions
you might have about driving in Switzerland:




Do I need an international licence for driving in Switzerland?

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. If you can't obtain one in your country, a certified translation in one of the aforementioned languages will be accepted.

driving in Switzerland


What other documentation do I need to drive in Switzerland?

If you visit with your own car, driver's licence and car registration document are mandatory. It is advisable to carry your insurance certificate as well.

In case you enter Switzerland in a borrowed car, you must carry a letter of consent from the registered owner giving you permission to drive the car.

driving in Switzerland


What is the minimum age for driving in Switzerland?

You have to be 18 years of age to be able to drive in Switzerland.

This age also applies for driving motorcycles with a maximum motor power output of 25 kW and up to 125cc.

16 years of age for motorbikes up to 50cc with externally supplied ignition or power of maximum 4 kW.

14 years of age for mopeds up to 50cc and a maximum speed of 30kph/20mph.

Be aware that many rental car companies only allow you to rent a car if you are over 23 or even 25 years of age. There are a few that are renting out to younger drivers, but most likely, the insurance rate will be quite high.

driving in Switzerland


Are there any toll roads?

mandatory motorway tax sticker
Yes. Driving on motorways (Autobahn/Autostrada/Autoroute), also called National Routes/Nationalstrassen, is only possible with a valid Autobahnvignette (motorway tax sticker).

This is an annual tax paid by everyone who uses motorways, even if only for a couple of hours.

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.

You need a motorway tax sticker to drive on motorways marked in read.
To enlarge the map, click on the image

driving in Switzerland


What are the speed limits?

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.

driving sings for Switzerland
  • Residential zones: 30kph/20mph and 20kph/12mph
  • Residential streets: 50kph/31mph
  • Highways and Rural roads: 80kph/50mph
  • Motorway (freeway, expressway): 120kph/75mph.
    Camper Vans weighing more than 3,5 tonnes and trucks towing a trailer: 80kph/50mph
driving in Switzerland


What are the basic rules for driving in Switzerland?

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.

Basic rules:

  • On secondary roads traffic from the right has right of way unless a priority sign says otherwise
  • Public transportation (post buses, city buses, trams, trains, ambulances, police and fire engines) has right of way
  • If in doubt, always give way to your right and/or use hand signs
  • To avoid traffic pollution, you must switch off your engine on railway crossings and traffic lights. For the same reason it's not allowed to "warm up" your car before you drive away
  • Orange flashing traffic lights: proceed with caution
  • Watch for cyclists, especially if you are about to turn right
  • Narrow mountain roads: uphill traffic has right of way; post buses, police, ambulance and fire engines have right of way no matter where they come from.
driving in Switzerland


What about driving in roundabouts?

swiss road signs
I can't imagine a country with more roundabouts than Switzerland ;) The driver coming from the left (already in the roundabout) has right of way. When changing lanes in two lane roundabouts pay particularly attention to the traffic to your right when you exit the roundabout. As well, keep an eye on bicycle drivers to your right. Use your signals when leaving the roundabout.

driving in Switzerland


Are there any special security requirements I have to know about?

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.

swiss road signs
Switzerland is a farm country. When you drive in rural areas, farm vehicles can slow down traffic. Equally, herds of cows, goats and sheep can occupy rural country roads, so be prepared to wait a few minutes or pass with caution.

When renting a car, be aware that most cars have manual transmissions.

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.

driving in Switzerland


What about Children's safety?

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.



What mandatory items do I have to carry in my car?

A warning triangle is compulsory.

Carrying reflecting clothing in your car while driving in Switzerland is not necessary. However, it is mandatory in EU countries (should you drive beyond Switzerland).

Contrary to other reports, it's not mandatory to carry a second pair of eyeglasses. However, when it is marked in your drivers licence that you need glasses to be able to drive, and you forget, break or loose your glasses, you will not be allowed to continue the journey after a police control, and you will be reported to court. So, a second pair of glasses might come in handy.

You only need to carry a fire extinguisher if it is mandatory for your car in your own country (see vehicle registration) or according to international regulations, for example, if you carry hazardous goods. All heavy motor vehicles such as transport trucks and buses are required to carry fire extinguishers.

You don't need to carry spare bulbs for car lights.

A first-aid kit is not compulsory, but advised.



What about parking?

    swiss road signs
  • Parking on sidewalks/pavements (pedestrian path) is not allowed.
  • City parking is a nuisance. It's hard do find parking in downtown areas. What's more, many restricted parking areas are reserved for long-term parking and require a permit. Watch for P&R (Park & Ride) parking lots or parking garages in commuter belts with public transport access.
  • Parking lots with ticket machines: Sometimes you have to place the receipt on the dashboard, on other occasions you punch your parking lot number into the ticket machine. Most machines only accept cash.
  • swiss road signs for safe driving
    Blue zones reqire a parking disc displayed on the dashboard (normally comes with a rented car. If not, you can get one at gas stations). Maximum time allowed to park: 1hour and 30 minutes.
  • Parking meters next to a parking space in streets still want to be fed with coins.
  • White markings along streets: permit free unlimited parking.
  • Red zones: Red parking disc required. Park up to 15 hours for free.
  • Multi-story car parking: pay before you leave at the ticket machines, there's hardly ever a pay booth at the barrier when leaving the parking garage.


What is Mobility car sharing?

There are over 1'340 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.



Can I use my cell phone while driving?

Using cell phones are only allowed with a hands-free device. Texting is not allowed. Fines are steep.



What is the legal alcohol limit?

50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or 0.5 grams/litre or 0.05%.

Random testing is common, and fines are steep. As a passenger with a valid drivers license you are equally responsible and get fined too, even if your alcohol level is zero.

In addition to a fine, drivers with levels between 0.5 and 0.79 grams per litre alcohol will either receive an official warning or will have their driving licence withdrawn for at least a month (depending on their previous driving history).

Drivers with levels over 0.8 grams per litre will automatically have their licence withdrawn for at least three month.

If you cross the border into France, make sure you carry the mandatory breathalyser test with you.



Road map or GPS for driving in Switzerland?

That depends on your preference. Signage and road maps in Switzerland are excellent. Road maps available online, in book stores, at gasoline stations, kiosks and in stores.



Will I understand the road signs?

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:


Red triangles with a white background warn about danger


This red triangle means NO right of way

road trip planner switzerland

Blue rectangles or squares point to something


Blue circles order you to do something


Red circles prohibit something


Grey and white circles or rectangles tell you when something ends


Highway (Hauptstrasse) begins and ends


Motorway begins and ends


Orange detour signs with and without text



Are there car trains in Switzerland?

Taking car trains is quite common, convenient and congestion-free. Most of the time, you avoid a considerable detour and save travel time.

Autoverlad is always possible in both directions:

  • Autoverlad Lötschberg between Kandersteg (Bernese Oberland) and Goppenstein (VS) every 30 minutes from dawn to dusk year-round.
  • Lötschberg and Simplon: Kandersteg (BE) or Brig (VS) to Iselle (Italy) on weekends from March to October, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Christmas.
  • Furkatunnel Oberwald (VS) to Realp (Uri). Year-round every 30 minutes early mornings to late evenings.
  • Oberalppass from Andermatt (UR) to Sedrun (GR) only open when the road over the pass is closed.
  • Vereina Autoverlad Klosters-Selfranga (Prättigau/GR) to Sagliains (Lower Engadin/GR) every 30 minutes early mornings to approx. 9pm
  • Costs CHF 20 up to CHF 150 depending on route and vehicle.



How much is the cost for gasoline?

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 2013: CHF 1.598 for Bleifrei (unleaded); 1.67 for Super and CHF 1.748 for diesel.



What do I have to know about winter driving in Switzerland?

Snow tyres are recommended but not mandatory. A sign will tell you when they become obligatory.

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.

Also, many passes in the Alps are closed during winter.



Do I have to expect danger from wildlife?

Especially when I am on the road ;) Joking apart - yes, particularly in forests and rural areas. Signs warn of danger of wild animals. Slow down, particularly at dawn and dusk on secondary roads. When animals appear, brake immediately, dip headlights, and use the horn. Any accident involving wild animals must be reported to the police.




What do I do if I am involved in an accident?

If possible, move the car to the side of the road. Otherwise, the warning triangle has to be placed accordingly to warn traffic.
- Phone number for car breakdown service: 140
- Phone number for ambulance service: 144

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- her herself, please assist.
- Police emergency telephone number: 117.

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.



Where do I find information about road conditions?

road trip planner
The latest road conditions can be obtained by dialling 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.

Alternatively, access the website of Meteo Switzerland.

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.



What are the regulations for cyclists?

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, Lausanne and Zürich you can even rent bikes free of charge (security depot applies).

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.



What are the emergency and other useful phone numbers?

  • 117 for Police
  • 144 for Ambulance Service
  • 118 for Fire Service
  • 112 International Emergency
  • 140 Vehicle Rescue
  • 1414 REGA Air Rescue
  • 163 for the latest traffic information (info in G/F/I only)
  • Weather Report: Meteo Swizerland
  • 145 Toxic poisoning

Swiss road signs © ASTRA

This page was last updated January 2014


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