Tyres, chains, socks?

26th October 2010, by anon

On the road

On the road

There is little doubt that winter is on its way: the first big snowfalls of the season have been reported, and drivers are being warned to take care on slippery roads. So, it is about the right time to take a look at Europe’s rules and regulations for getting around by car.

Whether you are taking your own vehicle to the mountains or hiring (maybe driving through more than one country), the laws in each Alpine country vary; and you need to be aware of them to avoid a fine. New regulations are being pushed through in 2010/11, which are likely to alter some of the latest advice here – some countries want a new European-wide law; in Germany they are expecting to make tyres compulsory this winter.

Winter tyres make a big difference to a car’s grip on ice, snow and slush. But while they are a regular feature on the continent, we rarely need or use them in the UK. So, do you need winter tyres on a self-drive trip or can you make do with chains stashed in the boot, or even just a spare pair of socks – tyres socks, we mean!?

Drivers in Austria face fines of 35 euros if their cars are not equipped with winter tyres – depending on weather conditions. The law has caused some confusion among foreign motorists, since it only takes effect from the 1 November, regardless of conditions in October.

If travelling from a country where winter tyres are not compulsory, into one in which they are, do not assume that the hire car will come fitted with such tyres as standard. If necessary, pre-book to ensure a hassle-free start to the trip. But cars hired in Austria and Switzerland should always come equipped with winter tyres.

We asked each of the main Alpine countries, Slovenia and Scandinavia, for a review:


Winter tyres compulsory? No, but advised. Snow chains must be carried.


Winter tyres compulsory? Yes.
These should be fitted to all vehicles between November and April, regardless of their nationality. Snow chains are only accepted as an alternative if the entire road is heavily snow covered (to prevent damage from the chains). The only other alternative is all-season M+S (snow and mud) tyres, but these must have a minimum tread of 4mm+to be legal.


Winter tyres compulsory? No.
Snow chains are a legal requirement and must be carried and used on roads displaying the relevant sign. Fines may be imposed if caught without. They are available for hire from most tyre specialists, or to buy from hypermarkets. Studded tyres are also permitted from November to April, on small vehicles.


Winter tyres compulsory? Under review – but a likely, yes
Until now, the current law only states that vehicles should be suitably equipped for winter conditions. So, carrying snow chains or socks is the local advice. However, in October 2010 it was revealed that the transport minister in Germany has called to tighten the law. This will make winter tyres compulsory this season.


Winter tyres compulsory? No, but …
Vehicles in the Aosta Valley must be fitted with winter tyres or snow chains from 1 October until 15 April – the advice is to have both. Otherwise, snow chains should be carried.


Winter tyres compulsory? No, up to a certain length
Vehicles up to 3.5ft long must be properly equipped for winter between 15 November and 15 March. This means either four winter tyres, or snow chains carried in the boot. The minimum tread should be at least 3mm. Longer vehicles must have winter tyres on the drive wheels.


Winter tyres compulsory? No
There are no formal rules for the use of winter tyres, although most hire vehicles should come with them as standard. Snow chains are not compulsory either. All they say is that if you get stuck without them, the rescue services can refuse to help. Chains are only needed on the really off-the-beaten-track roads, and they are signposted well in advance. Roads all over Switzerland are kept extremely clear of snow so usually there is not too much to worry about.


Finland: winter tyres are compulsory, from 1 December to the end of February unless otherwise indicated by road signs. Winter tyres must be marked with the M+S symbol. Snow chains and studded tyres are allowed, but only in sufficient snowy terrain.

Norway: winter tyres are not compulsory, but snow chains are (notably where indicated by road signs). Basically, any chance of snow then winter equipment must be used.

Sweden: winter tyres are compulsory from December to March, and should be marked with the M+S symbol. Minimum tread is 4mm.


Drive to the Alps

Drive to the French Alps

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