Drinking and Driving — What Is the Law in Switzerland?

As the number of parties, outings, and celebrations increases drastically during the Holiday Season, so does, unfortunately, the incidence of drinking and driving. In the period before and after Christmas, the Basel-Stadt cantonal police run an annual campaign called “Via” that includes large-scale inspection of vehicles, looking primarily for impaired drivers, as well as evidence of burglaries, which sadly are also more common during this period. During this season’s first “Via” operation, which took place on December 2 on St. Jakobs-Strasse, they stopped a total of 320 vehicles and were happy to report that only one driver was found to be over the legal alcohol limit.

What Is the Law?

In Switzerland (as well as neighboring Germany, France, Italy, and Austria), the legal alcohol limits are much stricter than in the United States and United Kingdom, with a maximum allowable blood alcohol level of 0.5 mg/mL (0.05%). Note that the same blood alcohol limits also apply to riding your bike! Professional drivers, new drivers (with probationary driving licenses), learner drivers, driving instructors, and persons accompanying learner drivers are not allowed to drink at all!

The police have the right to stop any car at any time, without any suspicious behavior, and submit the driver to a Breathalyzer test. If the test reveals a blood alcohol level of less than 0.05%, you will be allowed to continue on your way. If, however, your blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit of 0.05%, the consequences are as follows:

How Can You Tell if it Is Safe for You to Drive?

It is of course always best not to drink any alcohol at all if you are planning to drive! However, it is not uncommon for people to have a couple of drinks in the course of an evening. Because everybody metabolizes alcohol differently (eg, due to your weight, body fat, food you eat while drinking, and many other factors), this may or may not result in blood alcohol levels above the limit of 0.05%. Therefore, even if you do not feel impaired, it is prudent to ensure that you have not surpassed the legal limit—and to call a taxi if you have!

To find out if you are good to drive, it is recommended that you carry a Breathalyzer test in your car at all times. These are disposable tests that you can buy in most drugstores (Apotheke), often in a package of two, for just a few francs each. They typically consist of a pipe containing crystals that is attached to a bag through which you blow; the bag is necessary to gauge that you have blown sufficient breath through the crystals to get an accurate reading. Your blood alcohol level will be displayed and give you the confidence to either drive your car or find another mode of transportation!