Are We There Yet? Rules of the Road

Are we there yet? How many times have I said or heard that in my life? A lot. We spend a good deal of time in cars going places, don’t we? Driving in Switzerland is similar to driving in the States or most anywhere; we need a license and we drive on the right side here. We have stoplights, speed limits, our stop signs are red octagons with the word “STOP” in the middle. Most importantly, road construction is done in the summer when vacation traffic is at its peak. But there are differences.

One of the smaller things is: NO ‘right on red’. Which means you might have to wait for hours at an empty road junction for the light to turn green. We have, well, maybe not really ‘hours’. Another is No passing on the right, but unless you are passing you should drive on the right. That means you are constantly changing lanes back and forth on the highway to pass slower drivers. For some reason they like to hang in the middle lanes. Of course, there is always some smarty who constantly stays in the left lane. No getting around him, remember, no passing on the right.

The Roundabout

Over the last couple of years Switzerland has discovered the roundabout. They are everywhere. They are pretty useful to keep traffic moving. Still, it’s taken a while for the majority of drivers to turn off their left blinkers. As if they were saying “Look at me, I’m in the roundabout and look, circling counterclockwise! Left, left, left, left…”.

There’s an Austrian joke that goes something like this: An Austrian was driving and came to a roundabout, there was a sign when he entered that said ’10 minutes, maximum’ and he said, I hate it when they put a limit on these! I guess Austrians like going in circles.

There is one place here that a roundabout has been a blessing. About 20 or so kilometers from where we live there is a crossing of two straight, same sized roads. Straight roads for any distance are the exception here so people tend to drive fast and furious on them. Significantly there is a graveyard on one of the corners of the junction. For years there was one horrid accident after the other there. The local authorities tried everything they could think of. First stop signs on one of the streets, then the other. At one point they even put a 4-way stop there (the only one in Switzerland). Unfortunately, to no avail. There is now a roundabout there and as far as I know the accidents have finally ceased.

Swiss Driver’s License

Getting a driver’s license happens when people are 18 or 19 years old here. It’s expensive, so they probably have to save enough money first. That way they can pay for the hours and hours of driving lessons they have to take. Of course, no one says you have to take lessons. You can just go take the test, but you probably wouldn’t pass on your first try. Then you would have to dish out more money for lessons and a second test.

They don’t have driver’s education classes in school here, naw, that would be too easy. When you are learning to drive but don’t yet have your license you are obligated to put a blue card with a white “L” on your car. That stands for ‘Learning’ or ‘Lousy driver’. When other drivers on the road see that they can keep their distance and not honk their horns. That way the “L” can slowly and calmly hop away after the stoplight turns green. I got lucky because my American driver’s license was changed into a Swiss one without any tests.

Travelling Abroad

Swiss license until 1992Swiss licenses look like American licenses now. For years and years it was a sturdy blue paper about the size of a legal page, folded; huge. When you flashed that, any non-Swiss had to look twice to believe you were showing them your license.

We have a friend who travelled to the States with her children. She rented a car for the time they were there. At the rental counter she realized that she had left her (big blue) license at home. Not fazed, she pulled out her Swiss identification card. That is a laminated card the same size as an American license. She casually presented that to the man behind the desk. He dutifully wrote down some number he found on the card and gave her the keys to the car.

As she was leaving she saw that there was Swiss man standing in line behind her. He had given his “real” license to the man behind the counter. She heard the employee say “this isn’t a Swiss license, they are much smaller. I know what they look like, that lady leaving just showed me hers. I can’t let you have a car without seeing your license!”

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