Prepare for winter driving in Germany

by Genevieve Northup
Stripes Europe

In Germany, if you are in an accident and your car does not have tires adequate for winter weather, you could be held responsible by authorities, even if you are not at fault. You will have to pay a fine, and your insurance may refuse coverage resulting in an additional financial hardship. Worse yet, you could seriously injure yourself or someone else. Order your winter tires now — it could take up to 12 weeks for them to arrive, and the temperature is dropping.

The law
German law requires that all motor vehicles and motorcycles have clearly marked winter or all-season tires for the icy, snowy, slushy road conditions that occur between fall and spring. Tires must have a snowflake or “M+S” (mud + snow or matsch und schnee) marking. Tires bearing the “three-mountain” logo, three mountain peaks with a snowflake, are made to handle severe winter conditions, and winter tires are better for poor road conditions than all-season tires. In Germany, studded snow tires are prohibited, and snow chains are required only in a few areas; police or road signs will direct you when they are needed. The minimum tire tread required to pass USAREUR vehicle inspection is 1.6 millimeters, though a minimum of 3-4 millimeters is recommended to meet German requirements for adequate tire treads. To check your tires, place a euro coin in your tire’s tread. If you can see the golden rim of the coin, the tread is too worn, and your tires need to be replaced.

Due to varying weather conditions each year, specific dates are not cited for the use of winter tires, but Germans often follow the rule of “von O bis O,” meaning from October to Ostern (Easter) winter tires are used. However, winter conditions may start earlier and extend later, depending on your location.

The consequences
If you are caught driving in winter conditions without appropriate tires, even if it is September or May, you can expect a fine of 40 euros or more. If you cause an accident or impede traffic because you do not have the right tires for winter road conditions, fines are even higher. As previously mentioned, your car insurance may also not cover you if you are involved in an accident while driving with summer tires or bald treads in winter conditions. The police can also hold you at fault, even if you did not cause the accident.

Make sure if you rent a car that it has winter tires because you will be held accountable. Plan ahead when you travel because tire requirements vary by country.

Where to find winter tires
Depending on where you order your tires, it could take several weeks for them to arrive, and you don’t want to be caught without the right tires at the first frost. A popular choice for purchasing online, provides the option to ship priority, so your tires may arrive more quickly, but the shipping charge will be higher.

If you have any questions about winter tire requirements, contact your local vehicle registration or inspection office. And remember, even with winter tires, you must drive more slowly and cautiously.

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