Two safety measures aimed at young and newly qualified drivers aim to reduce the number of fatal accidents on Swiss roads.
AXA Winterthur insurance company is offering cheaper premiums to under-25s who have a black box data recorder fitted to their cars, while Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger plans to introduce a total alcohol ban for new drivers.
The number of deaths and serious injuries resulting from car crashes is falling in Switzerland. Last year 370 people died – a fall of 20 per cent since 2004 – while 5,066 were seriously injured, a slight rise on 2005 but the general trend has been improving in the last few years.
Most of the casualties have been blamed on inexperienced drivers, many of them young people who drink too much alcohol or travel too fast. Some 16 per cent of deaths last year were attributed to alcohol consumption.
AXA Winterthur has been running a pilot project in canton Zurich since the start of the year that slashed premiums by up to 20 per cent for drivers aged 18-25 who have installed a black box that can record their speed and reconstruct events leading up to an accident.
The insurer recently reported that 300 people had taken up the offer and it expects demand for 5,000 black boxes when it rolls out the project nationwide next March. More women took up the offer than men and parents of young drivers were also enthusiastic about the idea.
The initiative favours careful drivers, offering a financial incentive for people to drive more safely. "We assume that drivers drive more carefully when they have a black box fitted," said Winterthur spokesman Anton Brunner.
The automobile association Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS) believes drivers should remain free to choose the system.
"The black box is fine as long as it is voluntary, but we are against a law that makes this mandatory as it would be too expensive for drivers," TCS spokesman Stephan Müller told swissinfo.
The blood alcohol limit for all drivers in Switzerland was reduced to 0.5 from 0.8 milligrams per millilitre at the start of 2005, resulting in a 25 per cent reduction in serious accidents in the first six months of that year.
But Leuenberger believes that many young drivers are still abusing the rules, leading to deaths and serious injuries on the roads.
Shocked earlier this month by serious accidents that claimed the lives of 12 people – five of them under 25 – the transport minister repeated his calls to introduce a total alcohol ban for newly qualified drivers and professional chauffeurs.
Leuenberger will attempt to drive his proposals through government early next year despite having the plan blocked two years ago on cost grounds.
"We still have 400 deaths and thousands of serious injuries caused by car accidents [every year]. Newly qualified drivers are the most dangerous drivers and alcohol often comes into play with this group," he told Swiss television.
But TCS believes youngsters are being singled out unfairly. "It's not good pointing the finger at one age group and expecting safety to improve," Müller told swissinfo. "We believe it is enough to have awareness campaigns and to trust young drivers to be responsible."
swissinfo, Matthew Allen
The early 1970s were the worst years for road accidents in Switzerland when the annual average was around 35,000. The Swiss population is 7.5 million.
The highest number of road fatalities was also registered during this period, with a record 1,773 deaths in 1971.
The number killed in road accidents has been declining steadily since 1995, when nearly 700 people died.
The number of road deaths per million people in Switzerland last year was 49, compared with 62 in Germany, 74 in France, 88 in Austria and 92 in Italy.
From August of this year Germany imposed a total alcohol ban on drivers under the age of 21 and newly qualified motorists.
The canton of Thurgau wrote to Moritz Leuenberger in the spring to demand a total alcohol ban for young drivers. The number of accidents caused by alcohol in the canton rose 5.3% last year, mostly in the 21-30 age group.
However, doctors have raised doubts about the feasibility of enforcing this ban, saying many medicaments contain alcohol that could be traced in the blood.
From December 2005 Swiss drivers who pass their test have been placed on a three-year probationary period before they can be awarded a full license.