Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's never too late to learn rules of the road

I've had my driver's license since I was 16 years old. Granted, the test that I took in Middletown, Rhode Island, was easy. No highway driving and no parallel parking were required, (although I had practiced it with my instructor). All I was required to do was drive around the block, use my blinker and execute a three point turn. Voilà!

The most valuable driving knowledge I have collected during the past 24 years, I've learned on the road.

Like the day I drove a friend from Newport to Cape Cod and forgot to look over my shoulder to check the blind spot before passing a car on the highway. Thank goodness my friend yelped, as I could swerve back into my lane on time and avoid an accident.

Or the four times, I lightly hit a car in a parking lot, because I misjudged the distances or forgot to use my mirrors.

Or when I slid into a speeding car that was going uphill on an icy single lane road. I learned that even though the driver of that car was speeding, she had the right of way being the car going uphill, and I, being the car going downhill, must always have control over my vehicle no matter the condition of the road.

So, after living in the Swiss Alps for the past nine years, I am still learning valuable information about driving, and especially about driving in Europe. And, now I know why I've had the following strange and unpleasant experiences at two intersections in my village:

  1. near-collisions;

  2. drivers honking at me;

  3. drivers wildly gesturing with their mouths open;

  4. my uttering of swearwords (out of earshot of those outside my car) at what I perceived to be the rudeness of other drivers.

It was a good Swiss friend who educated me.

It's called priority to the right or 'priorité à droite' in French. Here it is. If you are driving along in a village, anyone joining that road from your right hand side (even if they are on a small side road and you are on a major road) has priority over you. They don't have to stop, (as they do in the USA), you do... even if you are traveling at a good clip. This rule is valid unless otherwise indicated by a stop or yield sign.

If in doubt, slow down, keep you eyes open and your foot near the brake, and be ready to be courteous (but don't expect any thanks)!

Here are the two intersections in question:

Intersection 1: The red car has priority. The blue car must stop for the red car.

Intersection 2: The red car has priority. The blue car must stop for the red car even though it is on the main road.


  1. It's correct, but not that simple, as you may lose your "priorité de droite" if you're changing direction and hence crossing the other car's way.

    For the uphill/downhill priority, it also depends on the type of vehicle. Long vehicles, postal buses have the priority, up and down.

    And you haven't talked about roundabouts...

    I have a Californian license. But I still have to retry for the swiss one, as I failed the first time. Americans are not required to have a test ride before being given the swiss license, but I think it's a mistake. The rules are very different. And I'm not saying that only because I'm frustrated I'm not allowed to exchange mine ;-) I think it can actually be dangerous not to at least teach the local rules.

    Do you want to test yourself?

    Or learn?

  2. Also, your naming of "main road" is a bit confusing. It may mean "principal road" indicated by the yellow square http://routes.wikia.com/index.php?title=Panneau_de_type_AB6&image=AB6_Suisse-jpg you always have the priority on the others coming from "secondary roads".

    Also, stop sign and yield signs have the same "authority" in terms of priority. If you're at my right with a stop sign and I have a yield sign you're going first. It may not be obvious either.

  3. They don't have to stop, (as they do in the USA), you do... even if you are traveling at a good clip.

    Last comment for today... You're supposed to slow down before each of these intersections, Missy ;-) Unless you have the yellow sign I mention before, before each intersection, you have to slow down to about 30km/h max, set into 2nd gear, and only go back to the normal speed after the intersection.

    (And you forgot to mention that it's strictly forbidden to turn right on a red light)

    (Still me, I just can't log onto my blogger account right now, because "We've detected unusual activity on your account.")

  4. M'dame,thank you for those links. Will have to try them.

    Don't quite understand what you mean with "...as you may lose your "priorité de droite" if you're changing direction and hence crossing the other car's way." In my first intersection example, the red car has priority and has to cross in front of the blue car. It doesn't lose priority.

    Yes, you are right about trucks and buses having priority going up or down hill. Totally forgot about that.

    I didn't want to get into too much detail... will leave roundabouts for another time.

    And I agree with you that foreigners should take the test when they move here. The problem is that where I live, we have a lot of tourists who drive around and they seem clueless about European driving rules.

    I used "main road" because in my second example, the "untergstaadstrasse" used to be a "principal road" but is no longer as they have turned part of it into a pedestrian zone. Thank you for the yellow square images. I have to go and see where those signs exist. You know I've never paid any attention to them if they do?

  5. The yellow signs are all over the place ;) You'll see them now, I'm quite sure!

    It's actually quite obvious, it's called "priorité du sens inverse". If you want to turn left and cross other's cars way, you lose the priority.

    Take two roads, a principal one (with the yellow sign) and a secondary one and three cars. 1 and 3 facing on the principal road and 2 coming from the left for 1 and from the right for 3. If 1 goes straight and remains on the principal road, it has the priority, but if it turns lefts (that is towards car 2), it looses the priority and it's car 3 that goes first. I mean, it makes sense, the car that wants to leave the principal road looses the priority and has to stop.

    Same thing if the road have the same priority level. The car at the outermost right looses its priority if turning left.

    More explanations (in French) here http://www.examen-theorie.ch/la_theorie_pour_les_nuls/priorite_droite.php

    (The spam problem isn't solved, google deactivated my account when I was commenting on your blog. I don't know why, so I'm not logged into blogger.)

  6. I'm off to my car. Feel so empowered with my new knowledge!

  7. Oh Ja! I'm 35 years old and I never ride in my life, so I am starting all here. I have just finished my theory test. It was so much to learn. I live in a little Dorf, so Rechts vor Links is everything here. Though for me coming from a jarge city it was the first time in my life that hear about it. When I'm driving and I have priority I'm not confident, I really think I must wait, here everyone is so sure that everybody will stop, It's the Law!! The same happens to me in Zebra Streifen, I'm not buying everybody will stop for me no matter what, I keep on waiting for eye contact.. Lots to learn. I'm in Germany and Swiss people drives funny!

  8. Oh yes, I know this problem! Even though I learned to drive in Switzerland. I always found this rule kind of strange- especially if you drive on the "bigger" road and you need to give way to the cars comming from the right from small roads. And believe me- I forgot this rule many times too!