New regulations for winter tyres in Germany
Regulations for the use of winter tyres in Germany have been tightened since 1 January 2018. If you ever drive in Germany, you probably already knew that. But did you also know that there will be another new rule from 1 July 2020? Time to brush up on your knowledge. What is the situation now and what is going to change? When are winter tyres required in Germany and what regulations do they need to meet?
*Last updated on 7 November 2019*
Which winter tyres, and when?
In short: only winter tyres or all-season tyres that have the Alpine symbol (a symbol that looks like a snowflake) still comply with the new rules. German law does not refer to winter tyres, but to “tyres with winter properties”. It is mandatory to use this type of tyre in winter conditions.
But what exactly do the Germans consider to be “winter conditions”? Winter conditions are defined as: ice, slippery conditions in snow, slush and slippery conditions caused by ice or frost. No fixed period is defined, so there is the possibility of winter conditions in periods other than the traditional winter months, meaning winter tyres might be compulsory then, too.
Winter tyres in Germany from 1 January 2018
The definition of a “tyre with winter properties” has been modified since 1 January 2018. The most important change is the fact that only winter or 4-season tyres with the Alpine symbol below still meet the requirements. In addition, it is a legal requirement that the minimum tread thickness of the tyre must be 1.6 millimetres. However, for safety reasons – as in Austria – a minimum of 4 millimetres is recommended.
Because of these new regulations, tyres that only have an M + S code are no longer sufficient. Manufacturers can decide for themselves whether to put the letters M (mud) or S (snow) on their tyres. But these terms say nothing about the performance of the tyres in winter conditions. What’s more, these symbols may appear on summer tyres. The Alpine symbol gives more assurance. To be allowed to use this symbol, the tyre must conform to a minimum standard of grip in winter conditions (snow grip index).
Does this mean the tyres you bought before 2018 were a waste of money? Thankfully, no. A transitional regulation will be in force until 30 September 2024 and winter or all-season tyres with only an M + S code can still be used, provided they were manufactured before 1 January 2018. You may be required to prove that the tyres were actually manufactured and purchased before that date. If you already have the Alpine symbol on your tyres, you’ll be fine, no matter what year they were purchased or manufactured.
The production date of the tyre can be checked using the DOT code shown on the tyre. The four numerals of the code show the production date. For example, the numerals 2416 mean that the tyre was manufactured in the 24th week of 2016. It is mandatory for all winter tyres or all-season tyres manufactured after 1 January 2018 to have an Alpine symbol. Make sure you check the production date and the symbol when buying new tyres.
Caravans and motorhomes
Since trailers and caravans are not self-propelled but towed, the rules do not apply to them. The car that is doing the towing, or the motorhome, must of course comply with the new regulations.
Change as of 1 July
On 1 July 2020, another rule will be added. In winter conditions, commercial vehicles and buses weighing more than 3500 kg – which includes motorhomes – must be equipped with winter tyres on both the drive axles and the steering axle. Until 1 July 2020, this is only mandatory on the drive axles. So if you need new tyres for your motorhome, you might as well add winter tyres on the steering axle, otherwise you’ll just have to get those next year.
Fines and liability
If your tyres do not meet the new requirements during a control, there will be a €60 fine. If you are inconveniencing other road users this will be increased to €80. Moreover, if you are involved in an accident, even if it was not your fault, you may be held jointly liable. In other words, failure to use winter tyres when you should have done means you could be asked to pay damages. So make sure your tyres are right for the weather. Of course, with good 4-season tyres you won’t have to worry about anything all year!
To comply with all the regulations in winter conditions, your car should be fully equipped for the winter. German law specifies that your car must be equipped for current weather conditions. In addition to the correct tyres, your car must have sufficient screen washer (containing antifreeze) in winter and properly functioning windscreen wipers.
In addition, it is also mandatory to use snow chains on some (mountain) roads, so make sure you carry a set in your car. Finally, an emergency triangle, high-visibility vests and a first aid kit are of course mandatory. If you drive a vehicle combination (for example a car with a caravan) then it is also mandatory to have two wheel chocks in the car. A portable yellow flashing light is also recommended, but is not mandatory for vehicles without a German license plate.
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