Noise and vibrations: In brief

Tranquillity is not only a valuable resource for human health and well-being, but also an important location factor. One in seven people in Switzerland are exposed to excessive traffic noise during the day. The growth in population and mobility and the densification of settlement areas will further exacerbate the problem of noise and cause the need for quiet and recreation to grow.

1. Need for mobility, 24-hour society, densification and desire for quality of life (drivers)

Mobility continues to increase in Switzerland: motorised passenger transport has doubled since 1970 and commercial traffic has trebled.

With the trend toward a 24-hour society, the lines between rest, work and leisure times are now becoming increasingly blurred. At the same time, the densification of settlement areas is increasing. Health consciousness and the desire for quality of life are increasing.  As a result, the potential for noise conflict is rising, and tranquil locations are under threat.

2. Noise emissions and vibrations (pressures)

Road traffic is the source of noise that affects most people in Switzerland, followed by rail and air traffic. Although technical advances have enabled vehicles to become less noisy, overall noise emissions have not decreased owing to increased traffic.

Other sources of noise include shooting ranges, industrial and commercial facilities, machines, building sites and everyday activities (neighbourhood noise, music, lawn mowers etc.)

Rail traffic is the main source of vibrations and structure-borne noise.

3. Protection provided to the population still inadequate (state)  

In Switzerland, one in seven people (1.1 million people) are exposed to noise impacts during the day at their place of residence that exceed the exposure limit values specified in the Noise Abatement Ordinance (NAO). One in eight (1 million people) are also exposed to harmful or disturbing traffic noise at night. Around 600,000 residential units are affected during the day and about 530,000 at night.

The constitutional goal of protecting the population from excessive noise has therefore not been achieved yet. The completed remediation projects have not provided effective protection everywhere.  This was often because the requirements were relaxed, which allowed the exposure limit values to be exceeded. Due to traffic and population growth and spatial development, more people are now affected by excessive noise levels than when the NAO came into force (1987).

Traffic noise is mainly an environmental problem in cities and urban agglomerations. More than 90% of those who are affected by harmful or disturbing traffic noise live in or around major urban centres.  Noise from ordinary or recreational activities in the densely occupied residential areas of urban agglomerations is also generally on the rise.

According to a survey by the FOEN and the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), 23%  of the Swiss population, i.e. around 2 million people, actually felt disturbed by traffic noise when at home with open windows.

According to the FOEN's estimates, approximately 40,000 people in Switzerland are exposed to vibrations in the range of the defined exposure limit values.

4. Health and economic effects (impacts)  

Constant exposure to noise pollution from ambient noise (traffic and neighbourhood noise and noise from leisure activities) seldom causes direct damage to hearing. However, permanent exposure to noise pollution causes illness: the human body reacts to disturbing sound by releasing stress hormones.

  • This causes an increase in heart rate and raised blood pressure values, which can lead to cardiac diseases culminating in cardiac arrest.
  • When people's sleep is disrupted at night, their bodies cannot recover sufficiently. The direct consequences of this are chronic fatigue, nervousness, increased irritability and impaired performance.
  • Every year, the Swiss population loses approximately 69,000 life years (DALY) that could have been lived out in good health in the absence of noise pollution (WHO estimates).

Noise also causes economic losses: properties exposed to noise lose value, noisy areas are less attractive to live and work in, and the health consequences of noise pollution are costly. The external costs generated by traffic noise in 2019 totalled CHF2,830 million. Of this, CHF2,277 million (80%) was accounted for by road traffic.

When noise increases, the social mix of the population in the affected location generally changes. Social segregation occurs: those who can afford to do so move to a quieter neighbourhood.

Moving into quieter residential areas, however, leads to increasing noise levels there, because the mobility needs of the population rise as a result. New and increasing traffic flows create additional noise problems in previously quiet regions and affect acoustically valuable recreational areas as well.

5. Avoid noise at the sources and protect the natural resource of “tranquillity” (responses)  

The legal basis for noise abatement is provided by the Environmental Protection Act and the Noise Abatement Ordinance. The primary aim of the legislation is to reduce noise at source by availing of state-of-the-art technology for noise avoidance. If the impact thresholds are exceeded, the owner of the facility which generates the noise must take additional measures.

For example, road traffic noise can be reduced using the following measures:

  • low-noise road surfaces,
  • use of quiet tyres,
  • speed limits,
  • adapted driving behaviour,
  • traffic-calming measures.

The trend in Switzerland towards higher density housing construction, a growing population and increasing traffic levels means that it is all the more important to reduce noise at source in order to create residential and leisure areas that are pleasant from an acoustic perspective. However, the resource “tranquillity” must also be adequately protected. The population requires access to quiet areas inside and outside settlement areas.

Further information

Last modification 07.10.2019

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