Imagine this: our society has reached the twenty-first century without inventing the motorcar. Then one day a visitor from another planet arrives and offers to sell us the secret of personal transportation. However the alien announces the price we must pay. For Switzerland alone, this alien wants a human sacrifice of 550 souls. A further 30,000 of our citizens must be injured, some so badly that they are paralysed or mentally incapable for the rest of their lives. This is the annual price to be repeated in every land round the globe in proportion to their populations.

Without further thought, we would send this visitor back to his planet in his flying saucer. The reality is more amazing than a visitor from another planet: we appear to happily accept this trade off death and injury for our freedom to drive our car.

Bundesrat Leuenberger has decided to tackle this madness by lowering speeds and raising fines. But is this really the right approach? If lower speed limits cut the accident rate, then logically he should bring them down to 20kph, or lower, everywhere. (If he were serious wouldn’t he have made daylight driving with headlights compulsory, not recommended?) The situation is more complex, for example 60% of accidents in the town of Zurich between pedestrians and motorised transport occur on pedestrian crossings. Should we then cross the road anywhere, but on a pedestrian crossing? Yes and no.

On a visit to England earlier this month I drove over 1000 kilometres in London and a number of towns, I came across a grand total of five ‘Zebra Crossings’ without traffic lights. These five were very unlike Swiss pedestrian crossings. The British stripes are white, not yellow. The road, on both sides, ten metres before and after the crossing was marked with zigzag white stripes – indicating absolutely no parking. There were two flashing orange beacon lights some three metres high at each side of the crossing. The road surface was marked with studs 10 metres prior and the crossings themselves were marked out by studs, to make them visible in heavy rain with surface water. Finally the whole crossing was floodlit at night. So, are these then safer than Swiss crossings? It appears not, as these ‘zebras’ are being removed throughout Britain and replaced by pedestrian-operated traffic lights with no road markings other than a line of studs, where the pedestrians stop the traffic before crossing.

Back in Switzerland and the 4.7 kilometre drive from my home to Horgen centre, involves driving over 32 pedestrian crossings. Thirty-two times when a pedestrian has the right to stop my car with nothing more than his or her body. Take such a journey often enough, and even Miss Switzerland appearing in a bikini 32 times in less than 5 kilometres will become unnoticed.

It comes as no surprise that Swiss pedestrian crossings are not working - drivers can’t see them. Further the crossings are painted yellow, a less important and visible colour than white. The low-key blue signs for the crossings appear at random on the left, right or centre of the crossing. Without studs the crossings are hard to see in rain - and in rain at night, they are invisible. To fit so many crossings in such a short stretch means inevitably that some are poorly placed on bends and brows of hills.

It gets worse: there are pedestrian crossings in Swiss towns with traffic lights controlling both the traffic and the pedestrians. But they look exactly the same as crossing without lights even down to the yellow stripes. In fact, drivers in slow traffic will often stop when they have a green light to let pedestrians cross. Both drivers and pedestrians are clearly confused. Now add in-line skaters and cyclists crossing and you have an accident just waiting to happen with all the blame put on the driver.

I have witnessed drivers who hardly slow down for pedestrians on crossings and actually drive on the wrong side of the road to go round them. Why should this happen? Is this disrespect for pedestrian crossings because there are so many of them and driver frustration because of having so many rules and regulations to comply with? Oddly enough drivers do not want to run down pedestrians, they simply want to get from A to B on time and safely. Lowering the speed limits further and increasing penalties will only exaggerate the frustration on Swiss roads.

I have driven for 35 years, sometimes covering 50,000 kilometres a year. I have driven in Africa, Paris in the rush hour, coast to coast across the USA. There is nowhere in my experience more difficult to drive than through Swiss towns. Lanes are narrow, strictly marked and jealously guarded by other drivers. Traffic lights that in other countries are designed to help the flow of traffic, do the opposite here and remain red for two minutes and green for 15 seconds. Little wonder motorists ‘jump’ red lights and have disrespect for anything that hinders their journey, like pedestrians. Lowering speed limits and increasing fines is simply going to increase frustration. Longer term we should look at designing safer roads and finally Switzerland should accept the fact, however unpalatable that the car is here to stay.