Driving in Iceland
Gravel roads, blind hills & blind curves
A common place for accidents to occur on rural roads is where a paved road suddenly changes to gravel. The main reason is that drivers do not reduce speed before the changeover to gravel, and consequently lose control. Loose gravel on road shoulders has also caused a great number of accidents.When driving on gravel roads, which are often quite narrow, it is important to show caution when approaching another car coming from the opposite direction by moving as far to the right as is safely possible.
Blind hills, where lanes are not separate, can be very dangerous, and should be approached with caution. There are also many blind curves in Iceland that test a driver’s skill.
There are many single-lane bridges on the Ring Road. The actual rule is that the car closer to the bridge has the right-of-way. However, it is wise to stop and assess the situation, i.e. attempt to see what the other driver plans to do. This sign indicates that a single-lane bridge is ahead. In Iceland, you can expect livestock to be on or alongside the road. It is usually sheep, but sometimes horses and even cows can be in your path. This is common all over the country, and can be very dangerous.
Sometimes a sheep is on one side of the road and her lambs on the other side. Under these conditions, which are common, it is a good rule to expect the lambs or the sheep to run to the other side.
- In Iceland, drivers and passengers are required by law to wear seatbelts, regardless of the type of vehicle or where they are seated.
- It should be noted that children must either wear seatbelts, or be in car safety seats, depending on their age and maturity.
- It is against the law to operate a vehicle in Iceland after having consumed alcohol and the punishment for violating this law is rather stiff.
- Iceland requires that vehicle headlights be on at all times, day and night, when driving. During the summer, there’s daylight both day and night and the day seems long.
- Drivers must be aware of this fact and avoid driving for too long, since they may fall asleep while driving.
- In several places there are traffic signs (rectangular with white numbers on blue background), indicating the recommended maximum speed and where drivers should realise that the permitted speed limit can’t be recommended because of the driving conditions.
- The use of hands-free equipment is an obligation when talking on a mobile phone and driving at the same time.
- It is strictly forbidden to drive off-road. Such driving results in serious damage to sensitive vegetation, which may take nature decades to repair.
- If any casualties result from risky behaviour on your part, such as from speeding and/or driving while under the influence of alcohol, there is an increased likelihood that you will be charged with reckless manslaughter.
- In addition, insurance companies have the right to demand reimbursement for any damage you are responsible for.
- The Road Traffic Directorate has produced the video “How to Drive in Iceland” which covers most of the points that are mentioned here in this article.
Driving in the Icelandic highland is quite different from driving in the lowland. The conditions can change fast due to weather, rain and even sometimes snow. Therefore roads can be closed and rivers can be too big to cross.Before you start your travel you should get information about the area as well as leave your travel plan with someone who can check up on you if needed. You can make your travel plan here.
- Start by checking if the area you are going to visit is open
- Get as much information about the area as you can
- Information centers, rangers and hut wardens can help you get the information needed
- Are you sure that you have the experience and knowledge needed to go the highland?
- If you are driving be on a 4×4 jeep, other cars will only get you into trouble
- If you are no sure how to cross a river skip it or wait for the next car to assist you over
When the fact that the country lies right below the Arctic Circle is taken into consideration, along with the fact that the growing season is short, it is apparent that the environment can take many years, decades or even centuries to recover. For example, many people don’t realise that by uprooting or driving on moss, damage is caused that can take at least a decade or, more likely, some hundreds of years to mend – and we’re not even talking about the highlands where the summer is much shorter.
Whilst travelling around the country, the highest respect for the Icelandic environment must be shown. It’s good to remember to take nothing besides photographs and leave nothing behind except footprints.
- Check out the road map and see where the roads and trails are.
- Get information about the appropriate routes at visitor centres, and from rangers or staff.
- Find out in advance when mountain roads are likely to be open, along with other related information, at visitor centres or here.
While on your trip around the country you’ll quickly see that in many places, road ruts and paths have formed from other people. Often they are closed off with nothing more than a row of small rocks. Don’t be caught in the pitfall of following those paths; only stay on roads and marked trails. Instead, think about the damage off-road driving has caused, take photos and educate friends and acquaintances. See how long such damage takes to heal. Notice that ruts don’t just look ugly; they draw in water and thereby cause even further damage, leading to erosion of soil and vegetation. Walk around a short distance or turn around if you can’t go any farther by driving. That’s the only right thing do. Besides, you can easily expect a sky-high fine or prison term for offences.We should all set a good example. Together we share the responsibility of ensuring that everyone gets the chance of enjoying a pristine natural environment for years to come.
Children in cars
While travelling we need to be sure that our children are both secure and comfortable. Here in Iceland laws about car safety are strict and maybe different from you country so check be sure to check on the following
- Children smaller than 150 cm are not allowed to sit in the front seat or in front of an airbag
- The middle seat in the back is the safest point for children’s seat
- Fasten all items in the car so they will not “fly” around the car if you need to break suddenly or if accidents occur
- Follow the instructions carefully when fasten the children seat
- Right air pressure in tires can make a difference when controlling the car
- All lights on the car must be in order
- Make sure that all windows and of course the mirror are clean
- Remember that road condition in Iceland is not what you are used to so drive carefully
Thread pattern must be good and at least 1,6 mm and the air pressure must be right. If the air pressure is not right or equal you could have less control of the car.
All lights must be in order and according to Icelandic law you must use the lights even on the brightest summer day. Before starting your trip make sure that the headlights, parking lights, brake lights, and hazard and fog lights are working.
Many roads in Iceland are gravel roads which demand more from the driver and also more from the brakes. Check out your brakes before the tour starts.
In fact the safety equipment is not only for you but also if you happen to arrive on a scene of an accident. Warning triangle is supposed to be in all cars as well as first aid kit. A reflecting vest is a good thing if you need to work around the car when dark. Fire extinguisher is required to be in all super jeeps and good thing to have on other.
And remember that if you get stucked or the car brake down have some extra warm clothing in the car and never leave the car if you are not sure where to go.