Thursday, September 4, 2014

Beep beep! Legal to drive!

This is a fact:  I now own a Swiss driver's license.  This fact is terrifying because I didn't have to do much to get it.

So how does one get a driver's license in der Schweiz?  Well, it really depends from where your homeland driver's license originates.  Which Ausländer-Führerschein you own dictates the lengths to which you must go to legally drive in the most type-A driving country ever.  This information can be found on the Departement Volkswirtschaft und Inneres webpage from your canton. And naturally, every canton has different rules and several bits of bureaucratic paperwork, otherwise it wouldn't be the Swiss way of doing things.

As a newcomer to Switzerland, you are allowed to drive on your homeland's driver's license for up to 12 months.  After that, you must exchange your old one for the new one.  You actually have up until your homeland's DL is expired to exchange it, but you may under no circumstances drive in Switzerland after 12 months on a foreign DL.

This is the process, as experienced by Nick and I, in my canton, Aargau.  For many residents from the EU, the USA, Canada and what seems to be a strange smattering of other countries (Tunisia?) one simply must download the application (get your Deutsch Wörterbuch ready), visit an optometrist (ein Optiker - they are everywhere, think Lenscrafters) and have a simple eye exam that cost about 15CHF. Good for us, the test is very similar to the test given in the USA at the DMV...but auf Deutsch and by someone that actually knows about eyeballs.

Our Optikerin was very patient with us, especially after I told her that Nick doesn't speak any German. This is one profession in which not so many people are comfortable speaking English, so she gave me the typical, eye-half-cocked nervous look.  Despite this, we decided to give it a go.  Success was achieved, albeit with a few bouts of Nick with his head in the viewing box whilst yelling, "What am I supposed to be doing?!" Everyone looks a bit silly with their head in the little box, but it's hilarious when there is language barrier panic involved accompanied by the Optikerin's sweet, yet slightly sadistic laughter.

After Nick's cultural torture, I asked the Optikerin about the eye test and explained that we had never had to go to an optometrist's office as a requirement in the States.  She laughed and said that it was a very good system and that they were responsible for making sure that people could see before getting behind the wheel at 18 years old, but that driver's were not required to visit an optometrist again until they were 70 or older.  Technically speaking, a person could be blind as a bat at 45 and go motoring through the Alps if he or she desired...until they kill a person...or a cow.  Cows are serious business.

All joking aside, the Swiss driver's test strikes fear into the hearts of foreign residents who are not so fortunate to be candidates for the simple exchange.  The rules are extremely specific.  So specific that study guides which look a bit like SAT study guides are sold at bookstores. Those learning to drive can also attend driving school, which costs about 3000CHF.  Even natives have difficulty passing the test. For instance, one of my friends failed the test due to a slight error parallel parking.  I've known 4 people to take the test, one passed on the first try.  The others went back to traffic school.