Driving in Switzerland

A Road Trip Planner for Safer Driving

Driving in Switzerland can be challenging sometimes - like here on the Stelvio Driving over the Stelvio Pass from Tirano (Italy) to Santa Maria, Val Müstair (Graubünden)

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

Introduction

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 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 are often 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):

Do I need an international licence for driving in Switzerland?

You don't need an international driver's licence.

However, the police have 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.

What other documentation do I need to drive in Switzerland?

What is the minimum age for driving in Switzerland?

Are there any toll roads?

mandatory motorway tax sticker
My first driving lesson

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 the 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).

Swiss motorway map showing toll road
You need a motorway tax sticker to drive on motorways marked in read.

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.

Speed limits 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.

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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:

What about driving in roundabouts?

Driving sign in Switzerland

I can't imagine a country with more roundabouts than Switzerland ;-) The driver coming from the left (already in the roundabout) has the 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.

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 times.

Driving sign in Switzerland

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 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 use a cage or a grid for animals.

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) height, 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.

Pay especially attention to children crossing the street in residential areas - they are quick and often not accompanied by adults.

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

What about parking?

Driving sign in Switzerland
Driving sign in Switzerland

What is Mobility car sharing?

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.

Can I use my cell phone while driving?

What is the legal alcohol limit?

Road map or GPS for driving in Switzerland?

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.

Will I understand the road signs?

Most road signs 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 centres, train stations, hotels and main points of interest.

Meaning of a few important road signs:

Driving sign in Switzerland

Red triangles with a white background warn about danger;

Driving sign in Switzerland

This red triangle means NO right of way;

Driving sign in Switzerland

Blue rectangles or squares point to something;

Driving sign in Switzerland

Blue circles order you to do something;

Driving sign in Switzerland

Red circles prohibit something;

Driving sign in Switzerland

Grey and white circles or rectangles tell you when something ends;

Driving sign in Switzerland
Driving sign in Switzerland

Highway (Hauptstrasse) begins and ends;

Driving sign in Switzerland
Driving sign in Switzerland

Motorway begins and ends;

Driving sign in Switzerland

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" (car-train) is always possible in both directions:

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 in January 2019: between CHF 1.63 and CHF 1.70 (Source: TCS Automobile club Switzerland).

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

Driving sign in Switzerland

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

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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.

Do I have to expect danger from wildlife?

Driving sign in Switzerland

Especially when I am on the road - in case you haven't noticed, my last name is Wild ;-) Joking aside - Pay attention to the signs and be particularly cautious in forests and rural areas. When 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?

Move the car to the side of the road. Place the red warn triangle behind the car to warn oncoming 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.

Where do I find information about road conditions?

Road trip planner for Switzerland

The latest road conditions can be obtained here: click the car sign to the left, then enter 'from' (departure destination) and 'to' (arrival destination) and it will also show if there are roadblocks/roadwork or a traffic jam.

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 alpine 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 about crossing the borders?

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 car 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 on driving to France, check the latest news about carrying a Breathalyzer. Theoretically it is necessary to carry one, but the law was suspended in 2013. More info here.

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, including e-bikes, can be rented on many train stations.

In larger cities such as Bern, Geneva and Zürich you can even rent bikes free of charge (security depot applies). In western Switzerland you can buy a day pass for 10 CHF in certain towns through PubliBike, a bike sharing scheme.

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?

Swiss road signs © ASTRA

This page was last updated in January 2020

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This article was printed from SwissVistas.com

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