The history of the vignette
When Switzerland angered Germany
This year it is yellow – a new highway vignette. But why do we put a colored stamp on the inside of the disc every year anyway? Blick takes you on a journey through the history of motorway signs.
In 1985, Switzerland was the first country in Europe to introduce a motorway stamp.
Martin A. BartholdiAuto & Mobility editor
It is the first election Sunday in 1984. Swiss voters will pay an additional fee of CHF 30 per year on February 26. With a turnout of 52.77 percent, 53 percent of voters accept the “Federal decree on the fee for the use of state roads”. The vignette as we know it today was born.
A year later, in 1985, Switzerland was the first country in Europe to introduce a vignette. It was designed by the Bernese graphic artist Roland Hirter (79). To this day, it has hardly changed optically – except for the color, which changes every year. The watermark was introduced in 1999 to make counterfeiting more difficult, and 2000 was the only year in which the year was displayed as a four-digit number.
For foreign cars
When it was introduced, the federal government still assumed that the tolls charged in this way would mainly be paid by foreign vehicles in transit. Alternative tolls in the Gotthard and San Bernardino tunnels have been abolished so as not to burden local businesses.
Instead, with the vignette, transit traffic in particular should participate in the maintenance of the state road. Due to high petrol prices, they rarely filled up in Switzerland and therefore did not contribute through the fuel tax. In the voting brochure, the Federal Council calculated that foreign vehicles would pay CHF 200 to 250 million, while Swiss vehicles would only contribute CHF 50 million. This is probably why the Federal Customs Administration and not the Federal Road Administration is still responsible for the vignette.
Switzerland also sharply criticized Germany at the time. The then Minister of Transport Werner Dollinger (1918–2008) described the vignette as an obstacle to European transport routes. But it was not only controversial among neighbors, but also in Switzerland itself. In 1986, a popular initiative was presented to abolish the vignette. National Council member Michael E. Dreher, 78, tried to speed up the repeal with a motion in 1988 because he was worried about Switzerland’s reputation: “The survey annoys hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, which greatly damages the reputation and popularity of our country,” Turner wrote in advance.
However, the advances were not crowned with success. Dreher’s proposal was written off after two years, and the initiative was withdrawn in 1990. Instead, ten years after the introduction of the vignette, the Swiss agreed to raise the price by 10 francs. The current price of 40 francs has been in place since 1995. In November 2013, voters rejected a further price increase to 100 CHF.
Many imitators in the East
Even international criticism from Germany was lost. Other European countries have adopted the Swiss system, with Austria leading the way. The country also introduced a highway stamp in 1997. Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary also have such a system today. Unlike Switzerland, however, most of them do not only offer short-term offers for days, weeks or months, but have completely replaced the sticky version with an electronic vignette.
In Switzerland, a partial step is planned for next year. The customs administration wants to introduce the e-stamp during 2023. Unlike other countries, the version with glue on the windshield will continue to exist – at least for now. It cannot be ruled out that sooner or later it will also be available only digitally with us. Then there would be no more problems like in 1995 and 2000, when the vignette did not stick properly. But it usually sticks to the inside of the windshield better than drivers would like (click here for instructions: How to easily remove a highway sign). Even that would be a thing of the past with the e-stamp.
Green light for e-stamp: Is the vignette sticker on the verge of extinction?(02:28)