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Car driving in Switzerland in winter


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Must knows about traveling by car in Swiss winters

  • Driving in Switzerland is possible during winter, but it requires experience and good preparation.
  • In many cases, public transportation is a better option.
  • Winter tires and snow chains aren’t obligatory. But you’re not allowed to cause danger to yourself or others by driving a car that’s not fit for winter weather.
  • Many mountain pass roads are closed in winter. Car trains can be a good alternative.
Mountain pass road in snow

Swiss roads can be challenging in winter weather.

Is car driving in Switzerland possible in winter?

You can travel by car in Switzerland during winter. But there are disadvantages:

  • Weather can cause difficult or dangerous circumstances.
  • Many pass roads are closed.
  • Some resorts are car-free or can't even be reached by car.

In most cases, public transportation is a better alternative.

If you do drive, it’s important that you’re experienced and that you prepare well. Make sure you know the rules about winter tires, profile depth and snow chains. When on the road, adjust your driving behavior and your itinerary if necessary.

Do I need winter tires in Switzerland?

Using special winter tires is not obligatory. But the Swiss law states that you must drive in a safe vehicle that you can control under all circumstances, without causing danger for yourself or others.

If you’re involved in an accident in winter circumstances while using summer tires, you can be held responsible. Your car insurance may not cover the costs.

That’s why it’s recommended to use winter tires, or at least good all-season tires, if you drive in Switzerland in winter.

What's the minimum required profile depth in Switzerland?

The minimum profile depth of your tires is 1,6 mm according to Swiss law. But the recommended minimum profile depth for winter circumstances is 4 mm.

Check your profile depth before driving. Also check if the profiles aren’t unevenly worn. That’s considered a risk, and it can cause trouble during police checks or in case of an accident.

Are snow chains required in Switzerland?

Swiss law doesn’t require you to have or use snow chains. But you must be able to control your vehicle under all circumstances, without causing danger or hindrance.

Steep, snow-covered streets are often not accessible without snow chains. On some streets, you'll even find a road sign indicating that snow chains are required. If you don’t use snow chains on such roads, whether or not they have the mentioned road sign, this is considered a danger. You can be fined or run into trouble with your insurance.

If you may be using snow chains, regard the following:

  • Practice attaching snow chains in advance.
  • Once you start driving on snowy streets, check if your chains are well attached after 50-100 m of driving.
  • Don’t drive faster than 50 km/h with snow chains.
  • Don’t use snow chains on streets that aren’t covered by snow.

How to prepare for winter driving in Switzerland

This is what to do before you start driving in wintry Switzerland (in addition to checking your tires, profile depth and possibly snow chains):

  • Learn about the general Swiss traffic rules and behavior on mountain roads.
  • Test your car battery. The battery can run out quicker in cold weather.
  • Check all of your car lights.
  • Adjust the tire pressure, so it’s optimal for your specific car and for the expected winter weather.
  • Refill your windshield washer fluid and make sure it's frost-resistant.
  • Apply a silicone product to your car door rubbers to protect them from frost.
  • Prepare for your route. If mountain passes are involved, check if they’re open. Create an itinerary that allows you to drive in daylight only. Driving in the dark is not recommended, especially not in winter.
  • Make sure you have a good internet connection while driving. This allows you to check weather forecasts and road conditions.
  • If you’re driving a rental car, check which winter requirements and accessories are included.

What to take along for a winter road trip in Switzerland

Apart from the general required and advised accessories, pack the following when driving during winter:

  • anti-frost window washer;
  • a window scraper;
  • a whisk to wipe off layers of snow;
  • car de-icer spray;
  • phone numbers of your insurance and of road assistance companies;
  • blankets, jackets and sufficient food and drinks in case you get stuck.

Which winter weather dangers to expect

Swiss winters can be mild. If you don’t go up in the mountains you may not even encounter snow. But there can be dangerous weather conditions, such as:

  • layers of wet leafs, making the roads slippery;
  • layers of water, causing the risk of aquaplaning;
  • strong rain or hail, reducing visibility and causing wet roads;
  • fog, strongly reducing visibility;
  • snow, causing low visibility and slippery roads;
  • sleet and ice, causing slippery roads.

Adjust your driving style immediately in such circumstances. Lower your speed and keep more distance. Stop if you can’t guarantee a safe continuation for yourself or others.

Which Swiss roads are open in winter?

If there are no extreme weather conditions, all of Switzerland's main roads are accessible in winter. This even applies to many routes in high-altitude areas, such as the Upper Engadine or the Matter valley up to Täsch.

Many mountain pass roads are closed though. Find an overview here.

Tips:

  • Always check the Swiss traffic information shortly before heading off. There may be sudden closures due to winter weather.
  • If a mountain pass on your route is closed, there's always an alternative. You can plan a detour, or use one of the car trains that cross mountainous regions.

Can I make a scenic road trip in Swiss winters?

Even though many pass roads are closed, you can still enjoy scenic drives. Some examples:

  • The main roads along larger lakes make for scenic routes. Find Switzerland's main lakes here.
  • A few beautiful pass roads are open year-round. Find out which ones here.
  • This 6-day driving tour is possible in winter too.

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