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Traffic rules abroad: What fines could you find yourself facing?

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Road traffic laws in other European countries are sometimes even stricter than those in Switzerland. Take Italy for example: Driving with 1.5‰ alcohol in your blood can result in your car being subject to a forced auction. Transgressions abroad can also have consequences in Switzerland, as our laws aim  to prevent foreign driving bans from having no effect.

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    Cyril Senn

    Cyril Senn is a legal expert with AXA-ARAG with a keen interest in everything to do with criminal and traffic law. He explains changes in traffic law and supplies facts and tips on prevention in road traffic.

Should I pay foreign traffic fines, or can I ignore them?

You should definitely pay fines issued by foreign authorities. As a Swiss resident, you could face serious consequences if you don't. You might, for example, be entered in the police search system, banned from entering a particular country or ordered to pay a hefty non-payment fee.

Will failing to pay affect my next trip to the country in question?

Depending on the country, you could have problems the next time you visit if you go through a police or border check. Your vehicle could be impounded until you pay the fine, while one or more days in custody is also a possibility.

Do I have to pay fines issued by foreign private companies?

In some foreign cities, such as Florence and Milan, local authorities contract private companies to collect parking fines on public property. These are classed as debts under private law and can thus be enforced by Swiss debt collection companies.

I've received a fine from Italy, but it seems strange to me. What can I do?

If you have doubts as to whether the fine is genuine, you should contact the foreign police at their official address. If it was sent by a local or city authority or a private contractor, contact the sender directly.

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    Swiss traffic regulations

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What to expect if you fail to pay a fine issued abroad:

Italy. Fines issued in Italy should be paid on time, otherwise very high non-payment fees are added. Fines can only be contested in writing and in Italian.

France. Switzerland and France have signed an agreement under which they provide mutual assistance to each other in the enforcement of penalties for traffic violations such as speeding or exceeding permitted parking times. In these cases, Swiss authorities enforce French fines and vice versa. Data are shared via the European Car and Driving Licence Information System (Eucaris), which holds records of all vehicle owners in Europe.

Germany. Germany and Switzerland have an agreement on policing that covers road traffic law. Details of specific vehicles and drivers are shared on request, regardless of the size of the fine.

Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein. Both countries mutually enforce traffic fines under an agreement with Switzerland.

Netherlands. Anyone who ignores traffic fines issued in the Netherlands can expect to face non-payment fees and be entered in the country's police search list. Switzerland works very closely with the Netherlands when it comes to identifying vehicle owners in the two countries.

(Source: Federal Office of Police fedpol)

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Know the traffic regulations

Essentials: Find out about the traffic regulations in your travel destination. It goes without saying that you shouldn't be driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, wherever you are. Here's a list of the most frequent cases  that our customers regularly face when abroad.

Austria

Find out about the motorway tolls in Austria. These can be paid digitally on the internet (website ASFINAG). If you drive without a sticker, you'll first receive a demand for EUR 120; non-payment attracts a fine of between EUR 300 and 3,000. Purchase of a sticker is automatically checked digitally using cameras and your license plate.

Croatia

Always pay parking fees and keep the receipts. Otherwise, you may receive post from Croatian or Austrian law firms or collection agencies. Claims generally become time-barred within five years.

France

Keep to the maximum speed limit. Fines are high and, if you exceed the speed limit by 40 kph or more on the motorway, the police are authorized to seize your driver's license on the spot. It is then forwarded to the Swiss authorities. Legal proceedings follow in Switzerland.

Germany

Keep to the maximum speed limit in Germany. Driving without a speed limit does not apply everywhere on the motorway. Germany often conducts distance measurements. And: There are also penalty points for foreigners in Flensburg. 

Italy

Foreign vehicles can be seized on the spot if you can't pay a fine. Our advice: Stick to the regulations. Keep all payment receipts from motorway toll booths. Toll booths are often defective and it can happen that – even though you've paid – you receive post from collection agencies years later because claims from the motorway operators only become time-barred after 10 years.

And even though Italy is famed for its wine, you shouldn't be driving a car when inebriated. The consequences are a whole lot stricter than in Switzerland. Watch out for urban streets on which only local residents and public transportation are permitted to drive. Travelers often overlook the relevant traffic sign and are subject to a heavy fine.

United Kingdom

In London, there is a Low Emission Zone for which there is a usage charge for certain diesel vehicles, in particular older motor homes . Failure to pay this charge results in a fine of between GBP 500 and 1,000. Check the internet to find out if you have to pay for your vacation vehicle.

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