If you are planning to drive around Europe in the winter season, you should know the legal regulations concerning the car winter equipment. This varies from country to country so it pays to check what is mandatory in your destination.
Winter tyres or snow chains are not required everywhere but it doesn’t mean you will never have to fit them. Their use can be dictated by road conditions or local signs, which you are likely to see when driving through mountainous regions in France, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland or Norway.
Failing to use winter tyres or other elements required for safe driving in winter poses a serious risk of getting involved in a car accident. And if you have an accident where winter equipment should have been used, it is automatically considered to be your fault so you will not be covered by your insurer.
Below you will find a compilation of legal regulations for winter driving by country. Find out what you need to arrive at your winter destination safe and sound. Happy driving!
European countries where winter tyres are obligatory
OBLIGATION TO USE WINTER TYRES
The winter season officially begins on 1st November and lasts until the first Monday after the Easter holidays. The exceptions are the counties of Nordland, Troms and Finnmark where it starts in mid-October and lasts till the end of April.
The winter season starts on 1 December and lasts until 31 March. The regulations listed below also apply to passenger cars and light commercial vehicles registered abroad which travel throughout the country during this period.
Winter tyres are required by law between 1st November and 31st March.
Between 1st December and 1st March, all vehicles must be equipped with winter tyres (when weather conditions require it, this period can be extended and cover the time between October and April).
The obligation to use winter tyres applies between 1st December and 1st March for all vehicles under 3.5 tonnes and vehicles with trailers.
In Lithuania, winter tyres are mandatory between 10th November and 31st March. This obligation applies to all vehicles with a total weight of up to 3.5 tonnes.
In Germany winter tyres are required in specific situations (depending on road conditions). There are no defined periods when winter models must be used but using inadequate tyres, causing traffic congestion or a hazardous situation due to unsuitable tyres is punishable with a fine of between 60 and 120 EUR and a 1 penalty point charge. In addition to chains, drivers are required to carry a shovel, pickaxe and tow rope.
In the Czech Republic drivers are required to drive on winter tyres between 1st November and 31st March or if indicated by the “winter kit“ sign. In this period vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes travelling on roads with ‘Zimni vybava’ signs must be equipped with winter tyres on all drive axles. Between these dates as well as in areas with a salt ban, all vehicles with a total weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes must have winter tyres and snow chains.
In the winter season, which starts on 1 November and ends on 15 April, drivers must use winter tyres. Austria is one of the countries where drivers are punished for failing to comply with the snow tyre requirements with truly high fines.
Slovenian law requires installing winter tyres or having snow chains in the car. Trucks must be fitted with winter tyres on at least one driving axle. During the winter, the regulations also apply to vehicles with foreign license plates. In winter, it is also recommended to have a blanket and a snow shovel.
Winter tyres are mandatory on all winter road sections from 15th November to 15th April, regardless of weather conditions. In the case of non-compliance with the mandatory rules during the winter season, drivers will be fined in the amount of 700 HRK (approx. 106 EUR).
In Romania, winter tyres must be used on roads covered with snow or ice between 1st November and 31st March, and all vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes and vehicles transporting people (with more than 9 seats) must have them on at least one driving axle. All-weather tyres are also acceptable if they have an M+S (mud + snow) symbol inscribed on them. Cars lighter than 3.5 tonnes must be equipped with snow chains, which should be installed when indicated by special road signs.
The winter season in Slovakia starts on 15th November and ends on 31st March. In this period, using winter tyres is mandatory. Commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes must have winter tyres installed on all axles and vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes must have them at least on one axle.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Cars must be equipped with winter tyres between 15th November and 15th April. In this period, all vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are required to have a snow shovel and a bag of sand weighing between 25 kg and 50 kg.
In Serbia, winter tyres must be used on all 4 wheels in the period between 15th November and 1st April. Additionally, snow chains must be installed in mountainous areas.
The winter period in Turkey starts on 1st December and ends on 1st April. Winter tyre regulations depend on local governors who decide if they are necessary and make necessary announcements according to current weather conditions. It is obligatory to fit winter tyres on drive axles of trucks, tractors and buses, on all axles of light trucks, vans and taxis. Any tyre to be replaced on the road has to be replaced with a winter tyre. Drivers who fail to comply with the snow tyre requirements may be fined up to 766 TL (about 90 EUR) and they have 7 days to adapt the car equipment to the regulations. If, after a week, their car is still not prepared for winter, it will be taken off the road.
WINTER TYRES USED IN SPECIFIC SITUATIONS
There are no regulations governing the use of winter tyres.
Winter tyres are compulsory in some sections of the road indicated by signs in the presence of certain weather conditions. Winter equipment is also mandatory for vehicles driving on roads marked with the B26 sign. Every driver must prepare their vehicle for the prevailing road conditions. Failure to do this is punishable with a fine of 135 EUR.
Despite the lack of general provisions which require the use of winter tyres, they are recommended in the period from 1st November to 30th April. Regional regulations are possible in wintry road conditions (e.g. alpine passes). The fine for the breach of winter obligation is of 100 CHF (about 92 EUR).
There is no obligation to use winter tyres for the whole country but in certain cases and regions it is required between October and April.
Across the territory of Montenegro, winter tyres are mandatory from November to April on selected roads, as specified by the Ministry of Police.
NO OBLIGATION TO USE WINTER TYRES
Winter tyres are not mandatory in Ireland.
Winter tyres are not required by law but it is highly recommended to use them during the winter period due to possible severe weather conditions. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that a failure to change to winter tyres may sometimes be classified by the insurer as a gross negligence and make it difficult to receive compensation in case of an accident.
This is a country with one of the strictest speed limits in Europe, but given the state of the roads and driving culture, it is justified. Albania's road infrastructure is constantly changing, but tourists should be prepared for very severe road conditions, especially outside urban areas.
Winter tyres are not required in Macedonia but are recommended between 15th November and 15th March. However, all cars, regardless of their weight and purpose, should be equipped with a snow shovel.
Remember that the differences in winter tyre regulations between various European countries may also concern defining the mandatory and recommended car accessories, such as, for instance, first aid kit, fire extinguisher and warning triangle. Before you hit the road, check the differences between the United Kingdom and other European countries and be well prepared for the journey.