Winter Driving in France - Compulsory Equipment in Mountain Areas
Originally posted on & updated on 19th November, 2023
As winter approaches, the freshly snow-covered Alps become a popular destination for ski enthusiasts. Ski resorts in some areas have decided to open earlier this year, offering visitors an extended ski season. However, it's important to remember that driving in mountainous areas during the winter can be challenging.
In France, there are regulations in place to ensure drivers have the necessary equipment to navigate these conditions safely. In addition to the standard requirements for driving in Europe, such as a valid license and insurance, drivers must also ensure they have the appropriate winter equipment, such as snow chains or winter tyres.
It's essential to check the local weather conditions and road reports before setting out on your journey. Make sure to also carry extra warm clothing, a first-aid kit, and enough food and water in case you get stranded due to adverse weather conditions.
To improve traffic conditions for better driver safety on mountainous roads, vehicles must be equipped with winter tyres or chains between November 1st and March 31st. What are the vehicles, equipment and areas concerned?
Note that all vehicles are affected. All vehicles with four wheels (or more) are affected by this regulation: light vehicles, utility vehicles, motorhomes, coaches, buses and heavy goods vehicles.
Which Areas does it Concern?The prefects of the 34 departments located in mountain ranges (Alps, Pyrénées, Massif Central, Jura Massif, Vosges Massif and Corsica) must draw up a list of communes where winter equipment is compulsory during the cold months. This list has been created after consulting with the relevant local elected officials. You can consult the prefectural decrees in those departments and it's possible to download the full list of communes and municipalities concerned in an xl file.
Road signs must clearly indicate the entrances and exits to mountainous areas where winter equipment is required. These signs should also indicate the period in which the winter equipment regulation applies, which is from November 1st to March 31st.
What Winter Equipment is Required?
In areas established by the prefects, cars and vehicles will be required to either:
- have in their trunks metal snow chains or snow socks suitable for fitting at least two driving wheels
- be equipped with four winter tyres, mounted on at least 2 wheels of each axle. The appellation winter tyre covers all tyres identified by one of the markings "M+S", "M.S" or "M&S" or by the joint presence of the "Alpine symbol" (known as "3PMSF" (3 Peak Mountain Snow Flake) and one of the MS markings. Note that from 1er November 2024, it will only cover tyres with both the "Alpine symbol" and one of the "M+S", "M.S" or "M&S" markings.
This regulation does not apply to cars and vehicles equipped with stud tyres.
What about Coaches and Lorries?Coaches, buses and heavy goods vehicles without trailers or semi-trailers are also subject to these obligations with the choice between winter chains or tyres. Heavy goods vehicles with trailers or semi-trailers must have snow chains capable of fitting at least two driving wheels, even if they are equipped with winter tyres.
Advice for Driving in FranceBefore you embark on your journey, we recommend that you check out our previous article on driving in France. It provides valuable information about the necessary travel documents, car requirements, general rules for driving in France, and a list of emergency phone numbers.
If you're heading to a ski resort and will be renting a car for the first time, we suggest you brush up on French road signs, as there may be specific signage that you're not familiar with. Before travelling, ensure you have a valid passport, and review insurance and weather forecasts, especially in mountainous areas. Take your time getting there and enjoy the fun, sun, food, wine and fresh air.