Despite global warming, the average (day + night) winter temperature recorded in Switzerland from 1990 to 2020 was -1.9 °C (28.6F). And with mountains covering nearly 60% of the country, facilitating a temperature drop of nearly 1 degree for every 100 meters in height, snow is a regular occurrence in winter.
In fact, average snowfalls range from 508mm (20″) to 1.5 meters (60″) on the Plateau and foothills. The High Alps on the other hand, regularly record anywhere between 2.5 meters (100″) to over 5 meters (200″) of snow each year. The highest annual snowfall ranges between nearly 10-11 meters (385-438″) occurring in Weissfluhjoch and Santis peaks.
Given that the average altitude in Switzerland is 1’350 meters – strangely enough, there is no legal obligation to fit winter tyres to vehicles in Winter. However, according to multiple websites, the advice to drivers is that “they must always maintain control of their vehicle” – a statement which could be open to interpretation. Especially those new to Switzerland!
To avoid any confusion, the above essentially means that if you have an accident and have the wrong tyres fitted, your car would be considered as being “unroadworthy”, and you could be held responsible. This could lead to the insurance company refusing to pay compensation.
Unlike in France, where the law requires drivers to fit winter tyres or carry chains from the beginning of November until the end of March in certain mountainous regions of the country, in Switzerland – there is still no official legal requirement for drivers to fit winter tyres to their vehicles.
However, as mentioned, the “catch” here, is that the Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) requires all vehicles on Swiss roads to be “roadworthy.” This is the sole responsibility of the driver. Essentially, if you have an accident and don’t have winter tyres on your car in snowy conditions, your car is considered as being unroadworthy and you may be held responsible for the accident.
But despite this slightly confusing official stance, Switzerland has long contemplated changing the rules on winter tyres. And according to the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (BFU) – who are promoting for winter tyres to be made compulsory, they would also like to see a law put in place to make this a reality. With over CHF 12 billion in total material costs for accidents recorded per year in Switzerland, it is easy to understand why they are supporting this initiative.
Some key takeaways:
- Currently, Swiss law only intervenes when those driving vehicles without winter tyres – in conditions requiring them to – have an accident.
- Despite support from the BFU for the introduction of a winter tyre law, the Swiss drivers’ association (TCS), would prefer to focus on educating drivers rather than introducing a legal requirement.
- After years of lobbying – there is still no legal requirement to fit winter tyres in Switzerland.
- Out of the roughly 55,000 accidents a year on Swiss roads, only around 50 occur on snowy roads. This has led to the Federal Council in not being convinced of a need for a change in the current law.
So what are the rules for winter tyres in the neighbouring countries?
Despite the ongoing discussion in Switzerland on “to have or not to have” (winter tyres), in France, 48 departments including those bordering with Switzerland now require drivers to have winter tyres. Anyone entering France must have winter tyres on or chains at the ready.
Parts of Italy also have similar rules to France. The Aosta Valley region for example, where winter tyres or chains are required from mid October until near the end of April. Information on the rest of Italy can be found here.
The law does not refer to winter tyres, but to “tyres with winter properties.” And it is mandatory to use this type of tyre in winter conditions.
Only winter, or 4-season tyres with the Alpine symbol (below) meet the legal requirements. In addition, in Germany, it is a legal requirement that the minimum tread thickness of the tyre must be 1.6 millimetres. However, for safety reasons in Germany as well as in Austria, a minimum of 4 millimetres is recommended.
Cars and trucks weighing up to 3.5 metric tonnes with with a maximum permitted total (laden) weight of up to 3.5 tonnes can only be used in snow, sludge or ice between the beginning of November and mid April if winter tyres are fitted to all their wheels.
Alternatively, vehicles can also be used in these conditions if snow chains are fitted to at least two of the driven wheels. However, snow chains should only be fitted if the road is covered in a more or less continuous layer of snow or ice.
Despite standardisation of rules within Europe on a myriad of products and subjects, the issue of tyres remains a contentious one, and it pays to check with official sources before driving in winter in Switzerland and also when traveling to neighbouring countries.
Apart from governmental sources, the Uni-Royal tyre company offers general information on winter tyre rules across Europe on this website: https://www.uniroyal-tyres.com/car/tyre-guide/winter-care/winter-tyres-mandatory.
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