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Across Europe, the first snow falls have been recorded and this means drivers need to take extra care and ensure that their cars are ready and equipped for the winter. But what about winter tyres? Despite having unilateral rules and regulations for a wide range of subjects, opinions in Europe differ.

If you are new to Switzerland and considering the need to fit winter tyres to your vehicle, the rules on winter tyres may seem unclear. In this post we examine what the exact rules are in Switzerland with regards to Winter Tyres. First, since Switzerland is surrounded by mountainous neighbours we take a brief look at the requirements these neighbours.

France – Laws in France require drivers to fit winter tyres or carry chains in 48 departments with mountainous regions from 01 November until 31 March. The penalty for non-compliance is a 135 Euro fine and the immobilisation of your vehicle.

Germany – Drivers of cars and motorbikes are required to have their cars fitted with winter tyres when driving in slushy, snowy or icy conditions. Failure to do so can incur a fine of 40 Euros and one point on your licence. This will increase to 80 Euros and one point if you cause an obstruction. The rule is remembered by the term “from O to O” . This is short for “from October to Easter” (von Oktober bis Ostern). The recommendation is for drivers to make the change from regular tires to snow tires in October, and leave them on until Easter.

Austria – The rule here is that cars and trucks with a maximum permitted total (laden) weight of up to 3.5 tons can only be used in wintry conditions between 1 November and 15 April if winter tyres are fitted to all their wheels. Examples of wintry conditions include snow, sludge or ice on the road.

Italy -Winter tyres are not generally mandatory in Italy; it depends on the signs beside the roads. If you see a sign with ‘obbligo di pneumatici invernali o catene a bordo’, you must either be using winter tyres or carrying snow chains. That said, and as a general rule, you can only drive through Italy with winter tyres from 15 October to 15 April. However, winter tyres are always compulsory in the Aosta Valley between 15 October and 15 April. It is also advisable to have snow chains.

When looking at neighbouring countries with their rules for winter tyres and the abundance of snow in Switzerland in winter, it seems more than just a little strange that according to Article 29 of the Swiss Road Traffic Act, there is no legal requirement to fit winter tyres.

However the law does require that all vehicles on Swiss roads must be” roadworthy” and drivers are responsible for this. If you have an accident and do not have winter tyres and your car is deemed unroadworthy you could be held responsible for the accident!

Interesting debates around Winter Tyres in Switzerland

  • Switzerland has long considered introducing rules on winter tyres and the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (BFU) would like to see winter tyres made compulsory.
  • So far however, Swiss law intervenes only when those driving without winter tyres have an accident in conditions that require them. Out of the roughly 55,000 accidents a year in Switzerland only around 50 occur on snowy roads.
  • Touring Club Suisse  would prefer to focus on educating drivers rather than introducing a legal requirement.
  • Three attempts have been made to make winter tyres compulsory since 2012. However, the Federal Council is not convinced there is a need to change the law.
  • One final point to note is that tyre treads should be a minimum of 1.6 mm deep, both summer and winter tyres. Any tyre that fails this requirement can trigger a fine of CHF 100 each. They also deem your vehicle unroadworthy.

A global survey by Michelin showed that:

  • Around 40% American motorists use winter/snow tyres.
  • In the UK this figure is 3%.
  • In Germany also 40% of vehicles are fitted with winter tyres.
  • In Austria the number is over 50%.
  • In Switzerland the number is similar to Austria at just over 50%.

Summary
For those living in lower altitude locations, where generally not much snowfall is recorded, winter tyres may not be necessary. But drivers should remember that the Swiss law states that you must drive in a safe vehicle that you can control under all circumstances, without causing danger for yourself or others. And in the case of an accident in snow and without winter tyres fitted, you will most probably be to blame.

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