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. 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. Prepare for your route and adjust your driving behavior and your itinerary if necessary.
Swiss rules about winter tires
According to Swiss law, using special winter tires is not obligatory. But you have the obligation to drive in a safe vehicle that you can control under all circumstances. You’re not allowed to cause danger to yourself, passengers and other road users.
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.
Swiss rules about tire profile depth
The minimum profile depth should be 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.
Swiss rules about snow chains
Swiss law doesn’t require you to have or use snow chains or to use them during winter. But you are obliged to drive a safe vehicle that you can control under all circumstances. And you’re not allowed to cause any danger.
Steep, snow-covered streets are often not accessible without snow chains. So if you expect to drive on such streets, you should use snow chains. If you don’t, this is considered a danger and you can be fined or run into trouble with your insurance.
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 Swiss winters:
- Learn about the general 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.
- If you’ll be using snow chains, practice how to attach them in advance.
- 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.
- Adjust the tire pressure, so it’s optimal for your specific car and for the expected winter weather.
- 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
Winter weather while driving in Switzerland
Winters can be mild, and if you don’t go up in the mountains you may not even encounter snow. But there can be dangerous weather conditions. Examples are:
- 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, your passengers or other road users.
Closed mountain roads in winter
Many Swiss mountain pass roads are closed in winter. Check the Swiss traffic information to find out which ones are (possibly) open.
Plan detours that avoid mountain passes if necessary. Car trains are often a good alternative.
Scenic Swiss roads suitable for winter driving
If there are no extreme weather conditions, the main car roads in valleys and along lakes are open. They make for very scenic rides.
A few beautiful pass roads are open year-round. Find examples here.
This 6-day driving tour is possible in winter too.