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Ten Strange Swiss Traffic Rules

Some traffic rules in Switzerland are quite strange. Some are more obvious than others, but all of them are broken on a regular basis by pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers. Does that include you?1) Give Way to cars from the right, except on roundabouts or where there is a white line or sharks teeth painted across their exit/entry onto the main road.

2) Pedestrians must use zebra crossings to cross the road unless there isn’t one within 50 metres. So, if you are walking and are, say, 32 m from a crossing, you can be fined for not walking along the footpath until you get to the crossing, crossing, and then walking back along the other side. Pedestrians must also clearly indicate they wish to cross – children here are taught to face the oncoming traffic, then hold their arm out from their shoulder at right angles to the road direction indicating they wish to cross. Pedestrians can be fined for enforcing their right of way.

3) Bicycles must stop at red lights, even when there are two within a few feet of each other, the red light must be obeyed. Just because other cyclists don’t stop, it doesn’t mean you won’t be the one that is caught and has to pay a fine.

4) Bicycles must display working front and rear lamps after dusk, as must roller- and inline-skaters. I wonder how much extra money the Canton could levy if they enforced this vigorously – thousands, or millions each year?

5) You can be fined for speeding when actually not exceeding the indicated speed limit if conditions are not suitable. For example, if you are traveling within the speed limit and hit something, you must have been traveling too fast because you could not stop before hitting something. There was a famous court case of a chair left on a motorway that someone hit: they were fined for hitting it because they were unable to stop. On a motorway at night, it is said that it takes a longer distance to stop in than you can see from your headlights.

6) You can be fined for enforcing your right of way – for example, you have the right of way and a car approaches from the left which would mean you had to brake – if you enforce your right of way and make him brake suddenly you can be fined (he will be fined too, but just because you have the right doesn’t mean you are allowed to enforce it).

7) Pedestrians must not just treat road junctions as continuations of the footpath and walk across without looking – if there is an accident they can be fined (but so can you be for not being able to stop in time – travelling too fast). Pedestrians only have right of way on zebra crossings. If the crossing has lights to control the flow of pedestrians, they only have right of way when the light for them is green.

8) Green traffic lights do not always mean you have right of way – if there is a yellow light flashing, then you can only proceed with caution, if the yellow flashing light shows a little man, pedestrians have priority and you must give way to them.

9) At roundabouts, if there are two lanes and you wish to go straight ahead, you must stay in the right hand lane – the left lane is reserved for people turning left.

10) The law also only says that you must indicate to say you are leaving a roundabout, there is no compulsion to indicate you are remaining on the roundabout. So, if you are in the left lane and are turning left at the roundabout, whilst traveling around the roundabout you need display no left indicator light, only a right indicator light immediately before you leave the roundabout. This rule infuriates car drivers approaching from the opposite direction who do not know if you are just about to indicate you are leaving, or will continue going around the roundabout. It’s probably a good courtesy to indicate left while traversing the roundabout, and then indicate right just before you exit.


Comment from Brian
Time 22nd July, 2009 at 11:57 am

Yeah, I have observed that the only people who can actually drive on roundabouts are the English and people who have actually driven in the UK. God help you if you are in Italy or the USA. (I’m from the USA and you don’t want to know.

Comment from Brian Marten
Time 29th August, 2009 at 10:48 pm

I hate say this but, I just read in an english translation of the Swiss Traffic Rules Handbook that you are NOT to signal as you approach the roundabout (as you should in any sane country, IE, UK). Rather you are only supposed to signal when you exit. I find this very pointless and stupid, as signaling is a wasted of effort when you are exiting because it is so difficult to do it exactly correctly. Therefor those who might take some use from your signaling are in almost all cases unable to do so. If you aren’t signaling as or before you enter the roundabout you are wasting your time. I have been driving on Roundabouts for over 2 decades in countries like the UK and signaling for right round (as they say in the UK) is very effective and safe. Anything else is dangerous. Maybe this explains the large number of accidents. That, along with the pedestrian crossings so close to the intersections. Also, not done in the UK.

Comment from Mikkel
Time 29th November, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Have anyone ever noticed how incredibly slow all swiss traffic lights are at going from red to green. I get so annoyed every time I am in my car. The way the get traffic through a crossing must be the most inefficient in the world. Always one lane at a time.

Comment from Larry
Time 9th March, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Do NOT signal your intention before entering the roundabout. This is confusing, especially since others might not see which leg you entered on. Signal a right turn as soon as your exit is the next one.

Comment from Xavier
Time 22nd September, 2010 at 9:25 am

Hi Brian,
i have to mention that I am agree with the strange rules in the roundabouts. And I am happy that you had driven in very sane countries like the Islands but I have to say that Switzerland is not the only country that you have to indicate when you leave the roundabout. In fact I guess is the common in all Europe. So sorry for being so insane for you.
May be France is not the best example but we also have it there and in Spain and in the Netherlands, Germany, …

Comment from Dr. med. dent. Garry Bonsall
Time 23rd June, 2012 at 7:17 pm

The Spanish have zero idea how to negotiate a roundabout: even driving schools and the police will approach in the right hand land to exit the roundabout at 9:00 o´clock position.

Comment from Gonzalo
Time 9th January, 2014 at 8:24 am

In my country, Argentina, is much easier. There aren’t any roundabouts, and there aren’t any rules…:). Of course, we have probably one of the highest ratings on death by car accidents. Yet, nobody cares.

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