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Through no fault of Old Man Winter, driving in Germany could be trickier this winter.

A law that went into effect May 1 requires vehicles to be properly “adapted to the weather conditions.” The trouble is that the law doesn’t explain exactly what “adapted” means.

“The law is kind of strange, it’s not very precise,” said Thomas Bohling, owner of the Bohling insurance agency in Darmstadt.

He said the new law states vehicles must have tires that are appropriate for the conditions, but doesn’t say what kind of tires those must be.

This ambiguity could result in the rejection of insurance claims in case of an accident, especially by German insurance companies, which are expected to strictly interpret the new law, Bohling said. He added that U.S. companies such as AIG and USAA are less likely to deny claims based on inappropriate tires.

But he said if travelers are driving on summer tires in the mountains, and there’s a sign that says alpine tires or snow chains are required, they can expect their claim to be denied if they are involved in an accident.

The law calls for a 20-euro fine simply for having tires that aren’t right for the weather conditions.

“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of cases this winter that go to court on this,” Bohling said.

If a vehicle with inappropriate tires impedes traffic, the fine is 40 euros. The fine applies if a car with inappropriate tires gets in an accident, regardless of whose fault it is.

Complications in insurance claims are expected to arise from the new law, Bohling said.

“If one person has winter tires and the other has summer tires, then the insurance companies are going to start arguing.”

ADAC, the German auto club equivalent to AAA in the U.S., has also noted the new law’s ambiguity, and its Web site suggests erring on the side of caution.

Both ADAC and Bohling suggest using tires marked with “M+S” and/or a snowflake symbol on the side. These should protect drivers from tire-related fines and insurance claim denials.

There is no deadline for putting winter tires on, but Vanda Touretzoglou, who works at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service car care center in Heidelberg, suggests putting the tires on immediately.

AAFES car care centers offer free inspections to ensure vehicles are prepared for winter, Touretzoglou said, adding that the exchange’s mechanics usually inspect all vehicles automatically when they come in.


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