Swiss motorways are the fastest roads in the country. There are over 1.700 kilometres of motorway in Switzerland, with most connecting east to west, with some mountain routes to Italy. There are 26 motorway routes, connecting the major cities of Switzerland.
What are Swiss motorways?
Swiss motorways are a national highway system, characterised by their slip roads and lack of controlled intersections. The majority of motorways in Switzerland are three lanes, although this does fall to two on occasion (particularly through tunnels or at the end of routes).
History of motorways in Switzerland
The first motorway to open in Switzerland was in 1955. It connected the city of Lucerne with its suburbs. The route today forms part of the A2 motorway that uses the famous Gotthard tunnel to get to Italy. The Sonnenberg Tunnel on the A2 served an additional purpose of being the largest nuclear bunker in the world until being reduced in size in 2005. Previously, it could have held 17.000 people in times of nuclear war.
The longest motorway in Switzerland is the A1 route, which connects the French-speaking cities of Geneva and Lausanne with the border of Austria in the east where the Rhein meets Lake Constance. The motorway was opened in 1964 to celebrate the inauguration of the Swiss National Exhibition.
Key things to know before driving on Swiss motorways
If you are about to use the motorway for the first time, do take care to make sure that you have all the necessary safety equipment and have up-to-date car insurance. Swiss motorways are extremely well maintained and orderly. Many Swiss politicians have often referred to the motorway system as running on the same clockwork as a Swiss watch.
Motorway pass (Autovignette / Auto Vignette)
One of the key things that you must purchase before going on the motorway is a motorway pass (Autovignette / Auto Vignette). This sticker will allow you to use the motorway network in Switzerland, with the money helping to maintain the road surface. The cost is 30 Swiss francs a year, and the vignette can be found in any petrol station. Once you have purchased a vignette, place it on the front windshield of your car, preferably in front of the rear-view mirror, to improve visibility.
All Swiss cars must be equipped with the following items to improve safety:
- A high visibility vest
- An up-to-date first aid kit
- A reflective warning triangle
General rules for Swiss motorways
The rules for motorway travel in Switzerland are similar to in other European nations:
- Avoid overtaking in the slow lane except during traffic jams.
- Never change lanes on a full white line.
- Always check your mirrors before you make a manoeuvre.
- Slow traffic is to stay on the right.
- Maintain the speed limit.
Motorway speed limit in Switzerland
Switzerland operates a style of smart motorway in which the traffic authority can increase and reduce the speed limit on motorways. If unobstructed, the speed limit in Switzerland is 120 kilometres per hour (km/h), with a minimum speed of 80 km/h. Do look for overhead gantries or road work signs that may say otherwise.
It is advised to take a break every two hours or 200 kilometers of driving on a motorway in Switzerland. Alongside other road signs, the motorway will inform you where your nearest rest area is, as well as what services they provide. Rest stops can range from simple toilet facilities to alpine spas and restaurant halls.
Many observers have described Swiss motorways as being on rails, with every car doing 120 km/h from Geneva all the way to Zurich. Switzerland strictly adheres to speed limit regulations and has several rules that govern the highway. For example, lorries are not allowed to drive in Switzerland on Sundays, unless they are carrying food.
Creating an emergency lane on motorways in Switzerland
If there is complete gridlock on a Swiss motorway, it is mandatory to form an emergency lane (Rettungsgasse) between two lanes so that the emergency services can get through to possible casualties. Typically, you always steer away from where the emergency vehicle is coming from to create a coherent lane with other road users.
The “Swiss zip”
One of the unique aspects of Swiss driving is the concept of a “Swiss zip”. These zips are to make sure that equal amounts of cars from each lane get merged into a single lane, regardless of who has right of way. This means that cars will take it in turns to merge from two lanes into one. The system is unenforced but do expect malice should you not follow this rule.
Speeding fines in Switzerland
Switzerland has a highly strict system of speeding fines for all Swiss roads. These can range from a set amount to a percentage of income. For offences where the car was going less than 5km/h over the speed limit, usually, no action is taken. Anything above that will be punished as such:
- 5-10 km/h is fined at 60 Swiss francs
- 11-15 km/h is fined at 120 Swiss francs
- 16-20 km/h is fined at 180 Swiss francs
- 21-25 km/h is fined at 260 Swiss francs
Anything above 16 km/h over the limit in built-up areas, 21 km/h outside built-up areas and 25 km/h on a motorway will lead to a court summons. This usually results in fines amounting to a percentage of your salary.
Excessive speeding will also usually lead to a one to three-month disqualification.
Driving under the influence in Switzerland
As a rule, you should never attempt to drive in Switzerland having recently drunk alcohol. The limit is now so low that anything more than a beer can be detected and fined. It is always recommended to make use of the extensive public transport system in Switzerland if you’re heading out for a night on the town. Penalties for driving under the influence can range from a fine to a significant prison sentence.