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Switzerland - Driving

In Switzerland you drive on the right in common with the other countries of continental Europe. This will require some adjustment for British and Irish drivers. Drivers on minor roads should give way to those on major roads, and in the absence of a priority sign you should give way to the right. Give way to public transport and emergency vehicles, to pedestrians, and to traffic already on roundabouts.

The rules of the road are available in full in the publication Autofahren Heute (also available in English as 'Driving Today') which is the Swiss Highway Code. The Swiss traffic police are not tolerant of infringements of the traffic regulations, no matter how minor, and these are in most cases punished with instant fines. It is therefore advisable to be fully aware of what is and isn't permitted before driving on Swiss roads.

Switzerland has a number of motorways and a network of major roads (Nationalstrassen) which are designated with the letter N before their number. Speed limits are different from and generally lower than those in neighbouring European countries. The speed limit on the motorway is 120 km/h. Outside of built-up areas the limit is 80 km/h, reducing to 50 km/h in towns and residential areas. The vignette windscreen sticker, available annually for CHF 40, permits you to use the Swiss motorway system but you will need to pay an additional toll if using the Grand St Bernard tunnel into Italy.

Speed limits are indicated by a number enclosed by a red circle, with end of speed limit indicated by a similar sign but in grey with a line through the number. A priority road has a yellow on white diamond, indicating that motorists have priority over those joining from other roads. When this is struck through with a black line normal traffic priority rules resume and those from the right will have priority over other traffic. Warning signs are triangular, and prohibited acts have red circles. Motorway signs are green and other roads use a blue background. STOP signs will use the English word.

In towns and cities, traffic light priority is given to public transport. If the traffic lights are flashing amber you can proceed if it is safe to do so. If you stop at a red light you must turn your engine off.

Roads are generally well-maintained but care is needed, especially in rural areas where there can be sharp curves and weather conditions can make driving hazardous. As in any country, you will come across bad-mannered drivers and people driving without due care, more often in the cities. In Switzerland it is best to avoid falling prey to road rage as actions such as undertaking can put you at risk of fines. City roads and main routes into cities can become very congested at the beginning and end of week days. Border crossings into France via Geneva and into Germany can be particularly busy, as are tunnels.

Always wear a seatbelt and ensure all other passengers also do so. Child booster cushions and seats are required for children under 12. You are also required to carry with you vehicle documentation including your driving licence, a spare pair of spectacles if you wear them to drive, a warning triangle, and snow chains during winter months. You may not use or travel with a radar detector in Switzerland.

Deaths from road traffic accidents are higher in Switzerland than in the UK, according to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office the 2009 figures were 4.5 deaths per 100,000 of population in Switzerland, and 3.8 in the UK. Fatalities per 100,000 of population are however significantly lower than in the USA. If you have an accident you should first stop, moving vehicles safely out of the way of traffic if possible. You will need to exchange insurance details with the other party and obtain any witness details. The police should be called on 117 if there is an injury and those involved in the accident are expected to give medical assistance where possible. Bystanders are expected to give assistance such as alerting the authorities, assisting traffic, and offering transport for the injured. If an injured person is moved, their original position should be marked for police reference. Police will also be called in the event of dispute and in this situation all must remain at the accident scene. If you run over a dog you are also required to call the police.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is dealt with severely in Switzerland with fines and loss of licence, and you may even face a prison sentence. The punishment is extended to any other drivers who are in the car as passengers. The maximum legal alcohol limit is 0.5mg per 1ml of blood. Drink and drugs tests can be carried out at random and you will be expected to cooperate.

The traffic police monitor roads both in patrol cars and via cameras. Speed camera tickets will be sent to you by post, and you can expect it to reach you even if you have left Switzerland some time ago. Penalties for driving offences involve a variable element according to the driver's ability to pay, which led to Switzerland being famous for issuing the world's highest speeding fine at 650,000 Euros. In addition, depending on your infringement, you can have your licence revoked for a fixed period.

When buying fuel in Switzerland, you will find unleaded petrol 95 and 98, plus diesel widely available. At time of writing these are respectively priced at CHF 1.73, 1.79 and 1.83. This converts as £1.29, £1.34 and £1.38 in pounds sterling, and as $2.12, $2.19 and $2.24 in US dollars (August 2011).

The Swiss Touring Club TCS is an excellent source of information on all things driving, including live traffic reports and details of road works.

Useful Resources

All Travel: Switzerland
Illustrated guide to Swiss road signs

TCS Traffic Report
Online traffic updates with map

Read more about this country

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