Understanding what to expect when the weather forecast announces winter conditions is an important first step in staying safe in winter weather.
Understanding what to expect when the weather forecast announces winter conditions is an important first step in staying safe in winter weather. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WIESBADEN, Germany - Leaving the house in the early hours of a dark winter morning can be a risky adventure. Not only do you need to dress accordingly, you also need to ensure that the walkways around your house are safe for yourself and others. Fallen leaves or snow and ice can cause people to fall and get seriously injured. Even though German law requires landlords and house owners to be responsible for making sure that walkways around the house are safe and not slippery, some rental agreements could state otherwise.

U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Off-Post Housing Site Lead, Andrea Langhans, explains that the snow and ice removal is typically mentioned in the lease agreement, however, the duty can be transferred to the tenant. “If the snow and ice removal is not mentioned in the lease agreement it is the landlord who is responsible for it,” Langhans said.

German law also prohibits the use of salt by private person in order to melt the snow on walkways or driveways.

Proper preparation of the vehicle for winter condition is also crucial and can save lives. The ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club e.V.), a German mobility and insurance association, states in an article from January 2021 that even though there is no general winter tire obligation in Germany, a car may only be operated in winter conditions with a complete set of winter tires. This is also known as a situational tire obligation. Offenders will be fined. A rule of thumb is to have winter tires on your car between October and Easter (https://www.adac.de/rund-ums-fahrzeug/ausstattung-technik-zubehoer/reifen/sicherheit/winterreifenpflicht-deutschland/). Please note that other European countries may have differing winter tire rules and that some regions, even in Germany, may even require snow chains.

Not only should a vehicle have been checked for the proper winter equipment, it also needs to be cleaned off of snow and ice entirely. Head of the City Police Department, Hans Peter Erkel, stresses that it is important to start with the removal of snow from the roof of the car, because the snow can quickly turn to ice. The ice can then turn into a dangerous bullet when the car comes to a sudden halt. Additionally, it can slide down onto the windshield and obstruct the driver’s vision. “Remember to also clean all headlights and tail lights. If those are covered, the car cannot be seen by other drivers,” explained Erkel. “Don’t forget the license plates. If those are not recognizable, the driver could face a fine.”

It is recommended to have the proper ice and snow removal gear handy in the car, because it is important to clean all windows entirely, so the driver’s view is not obstructed. “Even all rear view mirrors must be cleaned. However, remember that it is forbidden in Germany to idle your car. This can also be fined.” said Erkel. Additionally, Erkel reminds not to put the snow from the car on the street or walkway, but to either put it in one’s personal yard – if possible – or into the space between the walkway and the street.

Even though it is recommended to dress warm in low temperatures, remember that wearing a heavy jacket underneath the seat belt can also pose a serious safety risk. An article from the ADAC explains that a heavy jacket can make it harder to move. Additionally, it will cause the seat belt to position itself above the lower abdomen instead of on the hip bones. This can result in serious injuries to the internal organs. This was demonstrated in a test by the ADAC where a car was stopped suddenly even at 16 km/h (around 25 mph). (https://www.adac.de/verkehr/verkehrssicherheit/wetter/winterjacke-auto/).

Heavy boots can also reduce the feeling for the foot pedals, which is very important in snowy conditions.

When driving a car in winter weather, remember that foggy conditions, heavy snowfalls, sleet, freezing rain or black ice can occur at any time. The ADAC recommends to adjust the speed to the road conditions, avoid sudden movements of the steering wheel, have enough distance to the vehicle ahead and, most importantly, not to drive at all when conditions are too dangerous.

Understanding what to expect when the weather forecast announces wintry conditions is an important first step. Paying attention to Garrison announcements on Facebook, the website and the Garrison Emergency Notification System can help prepare for the way to work.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that families keep an emergency supply kit on hand and have their vehicles properly prepped and ready for winter storm emergencies.