The German Road Traffic Licensing Act (das Winterreifen Gesetz) accurately describes the driving situations in which winter tires must be fitted. The term winter tires is also defined there. Non-compliance results in a fine of 60 Euros and 1 point in Flensburg. If, on the other hand, an accident occurs due to having the wrong tires, then you run the risk of having your insurance cover withdrawn or you could even be prosecuted for creating a road hazard. In this article, you will find all the answers to the most important questions regarding the obligation to drive on winter tires in Germany.
Winter tires in Germany – legal regulations
It is compulsory to drive on winter tires in Germany since 04/12/2010. Previously, the German Highway Code only stated that the vehicle must be suitable for winter conditions. Tires and a special windshield washer fluid to prevent freezing were mentioned: “In the case of motor vehicles, their equipment must be adapted to the weather conditions. This primarily involves special, suitable tires and special windshield washer fluid to prevent freezing.”
The Higher Regional Court of Oldenburg has issued a decision on a lawsuit by a man who wanted to appeal against a fine imposed on him for incorrect tires. According to the decision, the previous regulation of the Highway Code was contrary to the law because it was worded too generally. The new Winter Tire Act now defines very precisely what winter conditions are and what tires must be used then.
- § 2 Section 3a of the German Highway Code on the obligation to drive on winter tires in Germany
This is what the law says: “In case of frost heave, slush, snow slush or slippery road conditions, motor vehicles must use the tires defined in Annex II No. 2.2 of Regulation 92/23/EEC of 31.03.1992 on vehicle tires and their fitting (ABl. L 129, 14.5.1992, p. 95), as amended by Regulation 2005/11/EG (ABl. L46, 17.2.2005, p. 42).
In addition, as of January 2018, a regulation came into force stating that only those tires with a mountain symbol and a distinctive snowflake symbol are considered to be winter tires:
The tires that have been accepted so far with the M+S symbol (the abbreviation stands for “Match” and “Schnee”, i.e. for snow and slush) are therefore no longer considered winter tires. However, until September 30, 2024, a transition period is provided for in which M+S tires can continue to be used as winter tires until then.
Which vehicles are affected by the winter tire law in Germany?
The law applies to all motor vehicles, that is:
- passenger cars
In the case of buses and trucks, this requirement applies only to the drive axle, i.e. winter or all-season tires must be fitted to the drive axle. Agricultural and forestry vehicles do not require winter tires. The law assumes that standard tires with large grooves are sufficient. However, this does not apply to quads and ATVs. Although their tires are theoretically suitable for winter conditions, these vehicles must still be fitted with M+S winter tires in case of snow or ice.
Since when is it compulsory to have winter tires in Germany?
Winter tires are only compulsory in Germany if the roads are covered with snow or ice and it is really slippery. Unlike in Austria, where the obligation is valid from November to April, in Germany it depends on the situation. After all, it could still be snowing in May or as early as October.
However, the season for winter tires is from October until Easter – easy to remember in German: “O bis O”, or “Oktober bis Ostern” (October to Easter). It is during this period that winter road conditions are generally experienced. This means that twice a year most German drivers have their tires changed at a garage or do it themselves.
In regions that don’t normally get snow, you can get by without winter tires. On those days when it does snow, simply use public transportation.
Who is responsible for having winter tires?
The driver is responsible for the correct choice of winter tires. This means that you must make sure that the vehicle you drive is fitted with winter tires – whether you own the vehicle, have borrowed it from a friend or have hired it. Only then can you drive it in winter conditions.
This obligation also applies to vehicles approved abroad. This means that all tourists who come to Germany in their cars must use winter tires if the situation requires it.
However, the regulations do not apply to parked cars. This is a situational law that only applies to actual driving in winter conditions.
How can you check whether the driver complies with the rules regarding winter tires?
As we mentioned earlier, winter tires have the special M+S label. The police can check very easily whether you are wearing the correct tires as they have the M+S marking on the side. Real winter tires also have a snowflake pictogram.
Pay special attention to the minimum tread depth! Winter tires that are worn out are no use to you. The German law stipulates a minimum tread depth of 1.6 millimeters. This is checked by the police in the event of an inspection. In order to be absolutely certain that your tires are in order, AvD (German Automobile Club – find out more!) recommends a tread depth of up to 4 mm.
Winter tires or all-season tires?
As we mentioned above, since January 2018 there is a regulation that tires with the M+S label are not considered winter tires. True winter tires must meet higher standards than M+S tires (also known as all-season tires). Such a typical winter tire is marked with the Three-Peak-Mountain-Snowflake symbol and the letters M+S. Only tires that have been successfully tested may carry this symbol. However, tires with the M+S label may only be used until 30.09.2024 (see above).
Tires with the M+S symbol are so-called all-season tires or all-weather tires. In case of snow or ice, especially in mountainous regions, winter tires are definitely a better choice. Good all-season tires, on the other hand, are a beneficial and safe alternative.
The difference between the two types of tires is primarily a different rubber compound. Winter tires are softer, so they remain flexible even in cold weather and provide a stable ride.
All-season tires are a compromise between winter and summer tires. They are meant to provide good driving comfort in all weather conditions. They don’t have any specific winter or summer characteristics, so they aren’t as specialized for specific weather conditions.
Problems with the insurance company in Germany if I don’t have winter tires?
If you go on the road in winter with summer tires, you risk losing your insurance coverage in certain cases. Or at the very least, it could lead to some benefits being cut off. Even if you are involved in an accident through no fault of your own, you could be held liable.
The insurer then assumes that the use of your vehicle poses some danger on the road. By driving in the winter on summer tires, the danger you pose increases. If, for example, there is an accident and you have to avoid the vehicle involved, and at the same time something happens to you or there is a collision, then you will be 20% jointly liable. This is what the District Court of Trier decided (Decision of the District Court of Trier, zfs 1987, 162).
Normally, in the case of non-compliance with the winter tire regulations, we speak of a presumption of fault. Only if the driver was absolutely unable to foresee the danger of the situation and driving with summer tires had no effect on the traffic accident, only then will he not be held jointly liable.
Problems can also occur with auto casco. If an accident occurs due to the use of summer tires, this can result in a substantial reduction in benefits due to gross negligence (§ 81 VVG). As a rule, the insurance then only covers 50% of the damage. In the case of extenuating or, on the contrary, aggravating circumstances, this figure can move up or down.
The Association of Insureds (Der Bund der Versicherten e. V., abbreviated BDV) recommends choosing insurance rates that do not cut benefits due to gross negligence.
No obligation for winter tires in Germany for trailers
The winter tire obligation only applies to motor vehicles, i.e. vehicles with an engine. Therefore, trailers do not have to be fitted with these tires. However, for safety reasons, the ADAC recommends that trailers also be fitted with winter tires in order to ensure the vehicle’s overall stability.
The breakdown is an exceptional situation
If you need to change a tire and only have a summer tire available, this is not a problem. A spare wheel with a summer profile can also be used in the event of a winter breakdown. But there is one condition: you must go immediately to a garage or to your home to change to winter tires as soon as possible.
Where can I buy winter tires in Germany?
If you’re going to buy tires in Germany, it’s worth looking at the offers on the Internet. These are usually the best value for money and you can buy them without leaving your home! The tires will be delivered to your doorstep. Here are some internet stores that sell tires in Germany: