The DEKRA vehicle inspection company, founded in Berlin in 1925, prepared a memo for its countrymen who go to other countries for the winter holidays by car.
In Germany’s neighbors, the requirements for the use of winter tires and anti-skid chains are different from country to country. Each country has certain peculiarities of its own, and there is no common legislature for the use of winter tires in the European Union.
This is why, driving outside your country, one must not only make sure that the tread depth of his winter tires is more than the minimum legal tread depth of 4 mm, but also pack the anti-skid chains, which will ensure one’s driving safety in the harshest of winter conditions.
According to the Austrian laws, the minimum legal tread depth of the winter tires is 4 mm, otherwise the tires are deemed unfit for winter use. In case of violations, a fine of 35 euros is imposed, and in the case of a threat to traffic safety — up to 5000 euros. Winter tires are mandatory for all wheels from November 1 to April 15. As an alternative, using anti-skid chains on the drive wheels on snowy roads is allowed.
In Italy, from November 15 to April 15, driving on the Brenner highway and/or the roads of Valle d’Aosta, regardless of the weather conditions, is only allowed on winter tires. In addition, be prepared for their mandatory use on many other roads in Italy. The regional authorities determine the rules of using winter tires as needed. Important: anti-skid chains may also be needed.
Strange though it may sound, Switzerland does not have a common legislation for the winter tires. It’s entirely up to the car owners to make sure that their cars are equipped with the tires suitable for the current weather conditions. At the same time, if your car creates a traffic jam, you will bear the sole responsibility for that and get fined; in the case of traffic accident caused by driving on summer tires, the drivers can be criminally liable. In the appropriate weather conditions, the authorities may install the traffic signs indicating that anti-skid chains must be fitted.
In France, the rules for using the winter tires are also not governed by any effective legislation. However, while driving around the country, one needs to pay close attention to the traffic signs displaying the information about the necessity of driving on winter tires or anti-skid chains. The minimum legal tread depth is 3.5 mm.
In Germany, in the wintertime, all vehicles must be equipped with dedicated winter tires capable of tackling frost, ice, snow, and slush. Violation of this law is punished by a fine from 60 to 80 Euros. The minimum legal tread depth in Germany is only 1.6 mm, yet for safety purposes DEKRA still recommends to use winter tires with a remaining tread depth of at least 4 mm.
The ADAC experts, who performed winter tire tests in size 185/60 R14, all in a brand new condition but with varying tread depth, also claim that the remaining tread depth must be from 3 to 4 mm.
What is also important is the fact that the new rules for using winter tires in Germany has a requirement, according to which all of the tires manufactured after 2018, in order to be considered «winter», must bear the «alpine sign» (a mountain with a snowflake, the 3PMSF icon). The «M+S» sign is only valid for tires with an earlier date of manufacture, and only during the transitional period until the fall of 2024.
Practice fitting your anti-skid chains while still at home.
If you are packing your anti-skid chains, make sure that their size fits the size of your tires. DEKRA strongly recommends to practice in fitting your anti-skid chains well in advance in order to be able to put them on while on the road, possibly in the cold and in the dark. Make sure to take your gloves and flashlights along — their usefulness cannot be overestimated, and they must be a part of repair kit for any car in any season.
As a rule, vehicles equipped with anti-skid chains are only allowed to drive relatively fast on ice and snow-covered roads, with a maximum speed of 50 km/h. Faster speeds and driving on roads without the snow coverage can result in damaging not only the tires, but even the car itself.