I cannot begin to explain how different my experience of learning to drive in Alaska at age 14 is compared to my 18 year-old daughter learning to drive in Switzerland. I passed my written test, hopped in my dad’s automatic transmission and within days headed out on the wide empty road to Homer. For two years I drove with my parents; learned to watch for moose and control slides on ice before taking my practical test on my 16th birthday.
My daughter’s Swiss experience, on the other hand, is intense with thin roads, enormous public buses, aggressive drivers, an easy to stall AWD manual car and scooters zipping in and out of traffic. No wonder there are seven steps to complete before becoming a licensed driver in Switzerland.
One: Successfully complete a certified first aid course.
Two: Take an eye exam.
Three: Pass the written exam (congratulations!). FYI, an English exam is offered in the cantons of Bern, Glarus, Solothurn, St-Gallen, Thurgau, Neuchâtel and Zurich.
Four: Contact the insurance company. I paid an additional CHF42 when we registered our Learner.
Five: Practice with any licensed driver 23 years or older who has had her driver’s license for at least three years. In Switzerland, the permit driver must stick the blue and white L to the back of the car whenever she drives. I used to laugh about these publically identified learners but now I am thankful for the L. It shouts “Give my car space because who knows what might happen next!”
Six: The learner must take eight hours of “road sensibility” classes.
Seven: Though it is not necessary, it is highly recommended that the permit learner takes several classes from a professional instructor. The Swiss driving test is extremely difficult to pass so this instructor can provide all the fine tuning the learner might need.
Our family is well into Step Five. I am no longer white fisted and looking for the brakes on on the passenger floor. My only request to experienced drivers out on the road is to be nice to the L’s. We’ve all been Learners and many of us will have children who are Learners. It’s easy to forget how dangerous a car can be. Help them be safe and calm.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/