Driving in winter

The Alps and Pyrenees are popular places to visit in the winter, particularly the ski resorts that attract so many tourists, both domestic and foreign.

But you do need to make sure you care completely prepared, as differing rules do apply when the temperatures start to fall and snow settles onto the asphalt.

A very snowy D24 in St Amand de Montmoreau, Charente, France. Click to view full size image.


Winter tyres

Although not mandatory*, the use of winter tyres is recommended if you are driving in particularly snowy or icy conditions. Such tyres use a different rubber compound, which means motorists will benefit from their use when the temperature falls below 7C. They help improve grip when roads are icy or snowy, however you'll still need to take it easy.

Tyres must be rated M&S (mud and snow) to be deemed suitable. If you prefer, you may wish to consider all season tyres which do the same job without the need to swap when the weather warms back up. Make sure you fit a full set, as it may otherwise affect the handling and stability of your vehicle.

* - a new law means their use is mandatory in French Alpine regions between November and March.


Snow chains

Snow chains must be used on your drive tyres (front only on 4x4 vehicles) where signs mandate this, or should the conditions deteriorate to a point where they need to be used.

Failure to comply can result in heavy fines, as their use is taken very seriously by the police. You'll also need to make sure you keep your speed down, as you must not travel at more than 50 km/h.

Do not use them on roads that are not covered in ice or snow, otherwise you may cause severe damage to the road surface and your vehicle.

It is strongly recommended that you test fitting snow chains to your vehicle before you set off on your travels. Alternatively, you may wish to consider using snow socks, which are a permitted alternative to chains yet easier to both fit to your tyres and store when not needed (and they are cheaper than chains!).


Spiked tyres

The use of studded tyres is permitted in France between 11 November and the end of March. However, their use comes with a caveat, in that the vehicle concerned is not permitted to exceed 90 km/h, and must display a decal on the rear stating this speed.


Photo on this page is by JLPC, and is used under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence