Are Snow Chains Legal in the UK?
Interestingly enough, there is no specific legislation that references snow chains in the UK. However, the law does state that the tyres on a vehicle must be suitable for the use to which the vehicle or trailer is being put to. This means that if you use snow chains when there is no snow, you could be committing an offence.
In fact, this is the biggest issue with snow chains in the UK. Motorways and most main roads in the UK are well gritted and cleared on a regular basis, so unless there is an unexpectedly large amount of snow, a UK driver is unlikely to run into any problems if they live in a city. Side streets, however, are not so well cleared, so getting from your home to a main road, or travelling through a very rural area, you may find yourself in need of snow chains. A lot of drivers run in to problems because they need to stop to put the chains on, drive a short distance, and then remove them again.
As long as the snow chains are used only when there is enough snow to make them necessary (rather than being kept on when there is no snow, potentially damaging the road), snow chains are perfectly legal in the UK.
Snow chains are difficult to fit and remove. Do not make the mistake of purchasing them and then simply leaving them in your car boot. Practice putting them on and removing them on your own driveway so that you know you are confident in how to do it. Note, also, that fitting a snow chain requires a certain amount of clearance between the wheel arch and the tyre. This means that it is not always possible to fit chains on standard tyres. It is better to find this out before you start driving, rather than end up stuck on a slippery winter road, or accidentally cause damage to your car by trying to drive with chains that don’t fit.
Are Snow Chains Legal in Europe?
There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the legality of snow chains in Europe, since different countries have different standards for what makes a car road legal. So, rather than asking “are snow chains illegal in Europe?” it is better to think about the law in different parts of Europe individually instead.
The situation in Europe is actually rather different to the situation in the UK. Many parts of Europe – including France, Germany and Sweden, have made it a legal requirement for drivers to have snow chains. You should also carry them in Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Norway.
In Germany, drivers are required to have winter tyres fitted during certain periods of the year, and also at any time when the weather conditions demand them. In France, winter tyres are not required, but snow chains must be used if there is snow on the roads, or if local signs indicate that they are needed. In other parts of Europe, visitors are permitted to drive using ‘normal’ tyres as long as they take the time to fit snow chains if the weather requires it, or if local signs dictate that they must be used.
Where winter tyres are merely recommended, and not mandatory, there is usually a minimum tread depth requirement for your tyres of 4mm. This may mean that your tyres are not up to scratch. The law differs from country to country, however, so it is important that you understand what you will be required to do in the area you are going to.
When to Worry About the Weather
Usually, motorists are encouraged to use winter tyres when the outdoor temperature falls below seven degrees centigrade. Winter tyres are good not just for times when it is snowing, but also for ice, frost, and roads that are covered in slush, or even just very cold and wet. A winter tyre is made from a slightly different type of rubber, which means that it will not harden when it gets very cold. They can shave eight meters off a car’s braking distance in cold weather – which is the same as about two car lengths.
In parts of Europe where there are a lot of mountainous regions, and where snowfall is quite common, there will be signs in certain areas indicating that use of snow chains is mandatory. Failure to use snow chains in an area where they are required will result in a heavy fine. In addition, if you are stopped and your car is inspected and it is found that you are not carrying snow chains you will be fined. If you are involved in an accident and should have been using snow chains at the time, if you failed to have them fitted then the accident will automatically be considered to have been caused by you.
Note that in addition to requiring the use of snow chains and winter tyres, many parts of Europe also have reduced speed limits in snow-chain areas. Andora, Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland all have differing laws regarding snow chains and winter tyres and/or all season tyres. Most countries in Europe also require spare headlight bulbs, hazard triangles and other basic safety equipment for all drivers. Always check the rules before you travel to make sure that you are properly equipped. Do not assume that just because you have been to Europe before you know the current law. Germany introduced new legislation in 2010 regarding winter driving, and there is no guarantee that other countries will not have changed their laws since your last visit – especially if it was a few years ago!