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Guide to Home Exchange in Switzerland: Driving

by John Mensinger on May 1, 2011

Driving in Switzerland is easy outside of a few city centers. An important rule to remember: the tram always has the right of way. If you are in a city such as Basel ask your exchange partners about how to share the road with trams. Wear your seatbelts, which are mandatory, as are car seats for kids aged 7 or under. Children under 12 should sit in the back seat. You are considered drunk if you have more than .5 milligrams of alcohol per milliliter of blood. Radar traps and speed cameras work with Swiss precision and efficiency and you can be fined on the spot for infractions. You should have car insurance and registration information in the vehicle as well as a note from your exchange partners authorizing you to drive their car.

You must carry a red warning triangle in the car and an extra set of spectacles/contact lenses for those drivers that wear them. Turn your headlights on when entering tunnels. Don’t honk your horn unless absolutely necessary and never after dark. Don’t use a cell phone while driving unless you have a hands free system (which makes it legal but still dangerous.) If a car’s occupants make noises that disturb other citizens they are breaking the law.

You may be puzzled when you are driving on a narrow paved road in the middle of nowhere and suddenly encounter a no entry sign for cars even though the road continues on for kilometers in the distance. The only folks that can use the road are the residents that live on it. The advantage of this system is that such roads make great routes for long distance walking, running, skate boarding, or cycling (watch out for the occasional tractor).

The maximum speed limit on a two lane highway is 80km per hour, you can go up to 120km per hour where permitted on the freeway. To use any Swiss freeway your car must have a vignette, a sticker on the windshield. If you bring your own car to Switzerland you can buy the vignette at the border. You might encounter officials standing at the border to make sure you have one.

Parking can be expensive, especially in the center of large cities. Your car should have a blue disc, which you use in the appropriate zones by indicating when you arrived; it will tell you how long you can stay there. You put it on the dashboard. When paying a machine for street parking or for a municipal lot you might get a receipt to put on the dashboard or you might punch in the number of your parking space. Sometimes, for example in Lausanne, parking is free over the lunch hour. Parking rules vary by municipality. You can only park free for a short time in Ouchy, the beautiful lakefront area of Lausanne. But if you park in adjacent Pully you get several hours of free parking. It took us less than 10 minutes to walk from Pully along the lake to the Olympic Museum.

The Swiss road system is well maintained and road projects during the summer months are frequent. Sometimes they close a freeway at night for construction. Try to be aware of these projects; they can really slow you down. Be careful to keep your eyes on the road, the spectacular scenery is distracting. Better to pull over to admire it or take the train, bus, or boat.

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