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Hamburg, Germany, 2006/12/09 - Should you need a rental car during the winter months, please pay attention to the new regulations for snow tyres. But beware: there's no binding snow tyres obligation, in fact it's necessary to equip the vehicle accordingly.
You are renting in a region with a small chance of snowfall? You are mostly out around town or have short ways to go? Nevertheless we recommend the reservation of snow tyres. The responsibility for an adequate tyre equipment of the vehicle may be imposed on you as the driver equally as the holder (rental car company). If therefore after the pick up of the vehicle winterly conditions set in and you do not have snow tyres, significant additional charges may occur. Depending on the rental car supplier a snow tyre fee ranging from 4,50€ to 18,00€ per day will be charged. Some rental car providers offer packages including snow tyres. Those are marked accordingly and in general slightly more expensive. If the car rental company has mounted its car fleet with snow tyres and you receive a vehicle with snow tyres upon pick up, you have to pay the seasonal surcharge, even if you don’t want to have snow tyres. Since presently there is no binding snow tyres obligation, the supplier needs to prepare for all eventualities, partly to the customer´s resentment. Should you have any questions, simply turn to our service team.
Legal Situation in Germany
The German Road Traffic Regulations (StVO) have been changed in the summer of 2006. In sec. 2 para 3a StVO the following is now stated: “The equipment of automobiles must be adjusted to weather conditions. This especially includes a suitable tire equipment and antifreeze for the windscreen wiper system.” This new regulation does not contain a general obligation for snow tyres. In fact, a "situational" obligation for mounting snow tyres does apply. A prohibition to drive with summer tyres thus depends on the particular weather conditions.
Presumably, there will be many legal disputes in the future as to the question when the use of summer tyres is prohibited. In any case an obligation for mounting snow tyres exists for snow and ice. To be on the safe side, however, one should mount tyres with a snowflake symbol or tyres which are marked as “M+S” (mud and snow) during winter time. Many experts are of the opinion, that the grip of summer tyres decrease at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius.
Snow tyres must have a profile depth of at least 1.6 mm, but a profile depth of at least 4 mm is recommended.
Driving with summer tyres despite winterly weather conditions is a traffic offence which can be sentenced with a fine of EUR 20.00. In the case of an obstruction of the traffic, the fine will be increased to EUR 40.00 plus a 1 point entry in the Central Card Index for Traffic Offences.
Liability by Civil Law
The use of summer tyres on snow and ice can lead to a joint liability of the driver in case of an accident. In addition, the operational risk due to the use of summer tyres on snow and ice will increase, so that it can lead to a joint liability of the driver and the owner of the automobile for this reason, even though the accident was the opponent’s fault. In addition, a regress of the own indemnity insurance may impend if the accident was caused grossly negligent. In case of damages to the own car due to the disorderly use of summer tyres the comprehensive insurance is also allowed to appeal to release from obligation to perform. Therefore, it is absolutely recommendable for a better safety as well as to prevent substantial claims for damages to mount tyres, which are either marked with the snowflake symbol or with “M+S”, in due time.
Problem: Rental Car or Company Car
Both, owner and driver of the automobile are responsible for a proper equipment. The driver should always insist on an automobile with snow tyres when the weather conditions are winterly as in any case he is responsible for the obligation to drive a well-equipped automobile. Besides, car rental agencies and employers are endangered with a fine if they still surrender automobiles with summer tyres on winterly street conditions.
Obligation for Mounting Snow tyres in Foreign Countries
There is no general obligation for snow tyres in Austria, Italy and Switzerland too. Though, winter equipment can be ruled for single routes. In Austria and Switzerland snow tyres must show a profile of at least 4 mm. Due to the impending joint liability by civil law, it is also recommended to use snow tyres in these countries during winter time.
In scandinavian countries snow tyres are strictly required. Indeed, this rule does not apply to foreign automobiles in Norway and Sweden. As a result of impending joint liability by civil law it is urgently recommended to use snow tyres as a foreigner, too. There can be an obligation for snow tyres for particular mountain roads in France. In Slovenia it is an obligation to use winter equipment between 15 November and 15 March of the year. In Hungary it is a rule to carry snow chains in your car during the winter season. In any case it is recommendable to get current information, e.g. by asking automobile clubs, before starting the journey.
This article does not contain legal advice. All information is researched thoroughly. However, any liability for correctness and/or completeness is excluded, whatsoever.
© COPYRIGHT ATTORNEY AT LAW JOACHIM W. WOLTERS, 2006
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