Chill and Heidi will not drive you mad.

The Swiss drive with such good manners, it is likely that you, an average driver from the ROW, will feel uncouth, loutish and delinquent after a day or two.

The convention of the zipper sums up how things work here. At a confluence of two roads, instead of (as you would at home) pleading or edging increasingly aggressively and desperately into the traffic stream, chill, it´s taken care of.

The queues will each donate in turn, one car from each stream, into the combined line.

Heidi does not do competitive driving.

But rules, official and unofficial are there to be observed.

Imprecise driving can be very expensive in Switzerland. There are frequent changes in the speed limits in built up areas, and you will often pass through the three standard zones, 60, 50 and 30kp/h, in a couple of minutes

For a driver used to miles per hour, the differences in the limits and the precision required to observe them is demanding. For example, the difference between the 50kph (31 mph) limit and 55 kph (34 mph)  – the speed at which you will trigger a camera here – is a measly 3 mph, about a micro n on the speedometer!

The Swiss penalty menu goes from 100 CHF for 10 kmh over up to a minimum of 1,000 CHF (650 EUR) for 40 kmh over the limit. More than 40 kmh over the limit and you will lose your license and be heavily fined, and even be looking at the possibility of doing a little jail time.

A few years ago I was snapped by a camera while driving a hire car through Zurich, at a marginally illegal speed. Back in London, over the ensuing months, official letters from Switzerland arrived with regularity to my London office address, and I filed them in a file labeled Swiss Letters. The file kept growing.

The following year, driving through the border, I was stopped on entry and had my passport checked.  I was then politely requested to get out of the car and taken to an office. To my alarm, the official left and locking the door, and me, behind him.

After a worrying 30 minutes the official returned and told me there was an outstanding arrest warrant in my name. Two hours later, and 1,500 CHF lighter, they released me. It had cost me 100 for the original fine, plus 1,400 for court fees, penalties and letters they had added for dissing them.

An expat friend managed to be fined an average of three times a week in his first 6 weeks driving in Zurich. After this beating, like most of us here, he now drives like a 79 year old.

 

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