Switzerland debates heavily restricting emergency sirens at night

Switzerland debates heavily restricting emergency sirens at night

Geneva Councillor of State Mauro Poggia has submitted a new proposal to parliament that would limit the use of sirens and blue lights at night by Swiss emergency services. He argued that the two-toned alarms and blue lights harm sleep quality in major cities, while critics have said the idea would endanger patients and emergency workers.

Sirens at night are a public health issue, argues Mauro Poggia

Speaking to 20 Minuten, Mauro Poggia, Councillor of State from the Geneva Citizens’ Movement, said that he didn’t think “it’s justifiable to be woken up by an ambulance siren in the middle of your sleep at three o’clock in the morning, when there is hardly any traffic on the streets and the blue lights can be seen from far away.” "I fall back asleep easily, but that's not the case for everyone," he added.

He made the point that especially in densely populated areas like Geneva, Zurich, Basel and other major cities, sirens have a dramatic impact on sleep quality, making the use of sirens an issue of public health. “Waking up tens of thousands of sleeping people is often unnecessary and always harmful to the health of the population,” he told lawmakers, adding that most of the time, the sirens are activated automatically instead of in response to traffic.

Proposal hopes to dramatically limit sirens at night in Switzerland

Therefore, Poggia submitted the “Sirens at night harm the health of the population” motion to Parliament. Under the proposal, vehicles from the police, ambulance service and fire brigade would no longer be obligated to use a two-tone siren and blue lights during emergency operations between 10pm and 6am. However, emergency workers would still be allowed to use blues and twos if needed.

The idea has some backing among the major cities, with a spokesperson for the Security Department of Zurich saying that “the motion initiates something that we think is fundamentally right.” Some members of the Social Democratic and Green parties have also voiced their support in favour of the new rule.

Swiss emergency services voice safety concerns

However, other cities have raised safety concerns: security director of Bern, Reto Nause, told reporters that the idea must be rejected as it “endangers the safety of rescuers and those who need to be rescued.” A spokesperson for Bern’s Protection and Rescue Department said that emergency vehicles would be denied right of way at night if they ditched their sirens.

They continued by saying that emergency vehicles can already choose to do without the siren at night “as long as the driver can move quickly without significantly deviating from the traffic rules and, in particular, without demanding special right of way.” They concluded that they would oppose the idea vehemently because it “would potentially extend the travel times of fire or rescue service vehicles.”

Thumb image credit: CatwalkPhotos /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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