Driving abroad in winter – what do you need to know?

Car driving in the snow and fog

Going on a winter holiday is a good time to enjoy Christmas markets, go skiing, or just flee from the cold weather into sunnier regions.

However, you need to be prepared and know the rules for driving at this time of year so you don’t end up with a fine, penalty points, or cause a road traffic accident. 

Law regarding winter tyres and snow chains in Europe

In comparison to the UK the legal consequences of using winter tyres is stricter in many other countries.

There are countries in which winter tyres are a mandatory requirement during the winter time, failing to do so could result in a fine or points on your driving licence.

You should therefore be aware of the laws of the country you are travelling to when you are planning to drive your own vehicle.

Winter tyre law in France, Spain and Italy

France

Generally, winter tyres are not compulsory in France, besides in certain mountain regions which will clearly indicate when winter tyres should be used. However, snow chains must be fitted to vehicles when using snow covered roads. These should be used when road conditions require or when local road signs dictate.

Spain

Similarly, in Spain you will only need to have winter tyres installed on your car, if there are traffic signs indicating that winter tyres or snow chains are compulsory in that area.

Italy

In Italy, it is recommended by the AA to use winter tyres. Provinces can also introduce local legislation making winter tyres or snow chains compulsory between 15 October and 15 April, or whenever conditions require it. They must be used where road signs indicate.

Winter tyre law in Austria

If you are driving in Austria during conditions such as snow, slush, packed snow, and black ice, or roads with frost, your vehicle needs to have tyres that have a 4-5 mm profile (depending on your type of tyre), snow chains or the M+S marking on your all season-tyres.

The timeframe to have winter tyres is considered to be from 1 November to 15 April. If your vehicle does not have the required tyres, you risk being fined €35, which may be increased up to € 5,000 if you are endangering traffic around you.

Winter tyre law in Germany

Under the terms of the German Road Traffic Act vehicles – including motorbikes - must have installed winter tyres or tyres with the M+S marking, and have snow chains fitted to their vehicles, if they are driving on winter conditions in Germany.

You are likely to be fined € 60, if you are caught without the suitable tyres installed. This will be increased to € 80 if you are causing any delays to traffic.

You will also likely receive one point on your driving license. There is no official timeframe to have winter tyres installed, but it is recommended to have winter tyres on your vehicle between October and Easter.

Winter tyre law in Switzerland

Switzerland does not have mandatory rules about winter tyres, but in the case of a road traffic accident, if drivers do not have winter tyres installed to their vehicle there is a larger possibility of receiving the responsibility of any damage incurred in a road traffic accident.

In certain areas road signs will show whether or not you are on a road that winter tyres must be installed. Snow chains are required and should be carried and used where necessary or as local road signs dictate.

Vehicles without winter tyres travelling through snow and ice which slow down traffic are liable to be fined.

So, if driving in Switzerland in winter, it is recommended that you have the right tyres for your vehicle.

In case of a road traffic accident abroad

At Digby Brown, we have lawyers who specialise in Foreign and Travel Law and can help people who have been involved in road accidents abroad.

If you are involved in a road traffic accident abroad this winter, and would like legal advice, we are here to help you.