British skiers and snow-boarders are increasingly opting for self-drive holidays to European resorts, saving money on flights and enjoying more freedom to explore.
However, holiday plans can also go downhill fast if vehicles are not kitted out properly, particularly when it comes to tyres. And this doesn’t just mean making sure they have plenty of tread depth.
For once motorists cross the English Channel, winter tyre legislation across Europe varies widely. However, the onus is on motorists to abide by the laws in place in every country, even if they are only driving through to reach their final destination. Crucially, in some European countries which experience prolonged periods of extreme winter weather – making them an obvious attraction for skiers – winter tyres are mandatory. But unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the tyre conundrum. All European countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, have their own winter tyre legislation.
So to begin with, British skiers driving to Europe can significantly reduce the risk of an accident by making sure their tyres are safe to tackle sub-zero weather conditions, not to mention narrow, winding roads. However, it is not enough to ensure your tyres have a good level of tread. If you flout the winter tyre legislation not only do you increase your risk of being involved in an accident, you are also liable to hefty fines and invalidating your insurance.
For example, motorists driving on Germany roads are liable for on-the-spot finds if their vehicle becomes stuck in snow or ice because their tyres are unsuitable for the winter conditions.
So with the half term and Easter break being peak times for family skiing holidays, vehicle owners planning on driving to foreign climes are advised to check out the requirements for the countries they will be visiting and make sure they comply with them.
For despite the fact that winter tyres and snow chains are not mandatory in every European country popular with skiers, they are recommended for use in the vast majority. And while a minimum tread depth of 3mm is required for winter tyres in most countries, some now require 4mm.
How to recognise a winter tyre
Winter tyres must be marked M+S, MS, M&S, M-s or Mud and Snow. The three peak mountain snowflake symbol (3PMSF) is an additional marking on M+S tyres, and indicates it is designed for severe snow conditions.
Examples of winter tyre legislation across Europe
Winter tyres must be fitted to all vehicles between November 1 and April 15 and in winter conditions. They must also have a minimum tread depth of 4mm tread depth. Furthermore, road signs across Austria indicate when snow chains are compulsory.
Winter tyres are not legally required, but snow chains must be fitted to vehicles using roads where signs dictate necessary.
There is no set date for winter tyres, however they are mandatory during winter conditions on ice or snow covered roads. Snow chains are also compulsory at times.
For the most part, winter tyres are not a legal requirement in Italy. However, drivers are required to carry snow chains for compulsory use in certain areas between 1 November and 1 April. Winter tyres or snow chains are mandatory in the Val d’Aosta area from 15 October to 15 April.
While winter tyres are not legally required in Switzerland, snow chains are compulsory when road signs indicate their use. In the case of an accident, however, if winter tyres are not fitted you are more likely to be held responsible for any damage incurred.
Changes in winter tyre law
It is worth remembering that winter tyre legislation across Europe is being constantly updated. Just because a law was not in force five years ago, does not mean the situation has not changed. Motorists must therefore always check their tyres comply with the legislation in force in every country driven through.
Finally, it is also important to stress that tyres should be correctly inflated. It may therefore be necessary to increase the pressure to support the increased load of the vehicle. Luggage, skiing equipment, even chalet supplies will put additional strain on tyres during the long journeys to and from resorts.
Denna Bowman, Head Office