Sunday, May 18, 2008

Swiss Car-Haters? Harsh but.....

I have a confession, and living in Switzerland it can be an obsession that does not go down well with the locals. Yes, I am afraid to say.... I am a car freak.

OK, I have said it now...I feel much better, but I can feel my residents permit being wrenched from my grasp. You see Switzerland is not the most car-loving nation on the planet. The Swiss themselves, have no problem, the amount of Porches and Ferraris on the A1 into Geneva in the morning are more numerous than the M4 that is for sure. No, the problem here is with the authorities.

Clarkson calls Switzerland 'car haters' which may be a little harsh but they are non too happy about you breaking laws... any of them... especially in your car. From checking the variable speed limits (sometimes they are lowered for 'environmental' reasons) to taking a spare pair of spectacles if you drive in them (I kid you not), the place to break traffic law is not here.

Hence setting up a race through Switzerland may have not been the best idea for eight drivers who got caught.

In the latest incident, police in canton Graub√ľnden revealed on Thursday that the drivers were caught in identical model Audi TTs while driving in “a racing manner”. One shot through the mountain village of Rona at 92 kilometres per hour on Wednesday morning, while several others were later seen driving along the road up to the nearby Julier pass at speeds of up to 133 kmh, where the limit is normally 80. Police said in a statement that eight British drivers were stopped and reported to judicial authorities. Three of them had their licences withdrawn.

Nine other people still remain in preventive custody in Zurich after they were caught speeding along a local motorway on May 5 at speeds of nearly 200 kilometres per hour. They are due to be questioned by a local magistrate tomorrow. Zurich cantonal police told the Swiss news agency ATS that the group appeared to be on a race from Milan to Paris. Their expensive British and Italian-registered high-powered sports cars, some of which were hired, were seized. The drivers could face fines of up to one million Swiss francs.

Read that again...one million Swiss Francs... you see the authorities now link your speeding fine to your income. Racing through the country in a Lamborghini and then trying to explain you are a plumber from Peckham who hired it and you are broke, may not wash with the Swiss fun-busters.

Drink driving is a complete no-no. The husband of a friend of my wife just spent 4 months in jail for being over the limit...for the first time.

There is a marvellous system however, if you loose your license because of an accumulation of points. You are forced to drive around in a Smart car at 45KPH maximum with a big sticker saying so...marvellous.

The odd thing is, however, with all these rules and most people sticking, completely, to the speed limit, you would have thought the Swiss would be fabulous drivers. I am not seeking to upset my wonderful hosts but, unfortunately, they have one flaw. Tailgating, as it is known in the UK (driving inches from the car in front) is prosecuted by the Police in the UK as 'Reckless Driving'. In Switzerland this appears to be something that is actually on the driving exam.

I can just imagine the instructor encouraging you to get closer and closer to the bumper of the car in front until he yields and pulls over. This happens even if there is mass traffic in front of you and a train of buses ten miles long in the slow lane...it is a national obsession.

I spent much of my initial time driving in Switzerland using 'international gestures of displeasure' at everyone who came anywhere near me. It didn't work.

My solution, like many here, was to buy a bigger car. We got the huge VW Touareg and now coast along the motorways oblivious to the BMW's attached to the back of our bumper and unseen in the rear view mirror because they are too close... job done.

So if you are coming to Switzerland for the Euro 2008 I would recommend leaving your car behind, it is much safer that way.... oh..and if you are of the hooligan inclination and happened to have stumbled across this blog looking for less savoury activities in our country, then ponder one thing... If they fine you for not carrying a spare pair of spectacles, bang you up for having one too many at the wheel, nick your Ferrari and fine you one million Swiss for speeding, imagine what they will do if you decided to cause some aggro in the local bars.... good luck with that..

Hop Suisse!

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