Winter driving in Europe - rules and regulations

Snow chains in Austria and France or winter tyres in Germany Switzerland and Italy. Do you need them?

Snow chains or winter tyres - why you need them and where they are mandatory.

Information on winter tyres and snowchains in Andorra, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

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One of our most frequently asked questions relates to the use of winter tyres when driving abroad. More and more countries are now making winter tyres compulsory. Every country has different rules, laws and regulations, so click the country links on the right to find out all you need to know about winter driving and other motoring laws. This page gives an overview of winter driving requirements in Europe.

In order to increase the amount of grip when the roads are icy or snow-covered winter tyres or snow chains are fitted. This is common practice in many European countries where snow and ice is either long-lasting, or where altitude means heavy falls of snow are common-place.

A road is always less predictable in winter than in hot weather; whether it's snowy, icy or just wet, the surface always gives less grip than in summer.

Because of the specific form of a winter tyre, which is designed to displace the water passing under the tyre, a winter tyre reduces the risk of aquaplaning, as well as improving grip in more extreme conditions. A winter tyre gives much better adherence and excellent traction, because it has a deeper tread than a summer tyre. A winter tyre is made of special silica rubber compounds, which are better adapted to the cold and enable better braking.

A winter tyre is not the same as a studded tyre, which is designed for more extreme driving. Winter tyres can be recognised by the snowflake on the sidewall, or one of the following combimation of letters: M+S, M/S, M&S. In most of Europe away from the southern countries many drivers now use winter tyres throughout the cold weather, fitting them at the end of October and keeping them on the car until April. Modern winter tyres give better grip in all weather when the temperature is below about 7 degrees.

Snow chains are intended as a temporary measure to ensure the vehicle continues to progress when roads are covered with snow or ice. They are not mandatory on a country-wide basis, but you must carry and fit chains when conditions demand. The police can stop you and forbid you from travelling further if you do not have chains and fit them when required. Many countries have road signs indicating roadside bays where you should stop and fit snow chains. If snowchains are fitted you should travel at no more than 30 mph and should remove them as soon as possible to avoid damaging the road service. Snow chains should always be fitted to the driving wheels, and to the front wheels of 4x4s.

However, many countries have excellent facilities for clearing snow and ice from roads, so even when travelling to high Alpine resorts it is only at times of heavy snowfall that you are likely to need to stop and fit your chains. Apart from the issue of legality, it would be foolish to venture into the mountains in winter without a set of chains.

If you are likely to cover much distance on treacherous roads, even in the UK, but feel that a complete set of winter tyres is too high an expense, you might consider a reputable brand of retreaded winter tyre.   BACK TO TOP

All information on this page is provided as a service to our clients. It is intended as a guide to the more important rules for the different countries to which we offer driving holidays. It is not meant to be a comprehensive document. We try and keep the information on this page up-to-date, but we cannot be held responsible in any way for any consequences arising from any inaccuracies. If you find a mistake or would like to send us some additional information, please email us. Your co-operation is appreciated.


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