Driving in Iceland
Driving in Iceland
A relatively large percentage of foreign tourists in Iceland travel around the country by car. Conditions in Iceland are unusual in many ways and often quite unlike those to which foreign drivers are accustomed. It is therefore very important to find out how to drive in this country. We know that the landscape is beautiful, which naturally draws the attention of the driver away from the road. But in order to reach your destination safely, you must keep your full attention on driving.
This article is intended to point out the main dangers when driving in Iceland, especially the unusual ones that may come as a complete surprise to foreign drivers.
What are the speed limits?
The speed limit in populated areas is usually from 30 - 50 km/hr. Speed limit signs are usually not posted unless it is other than 50 km/hr. The speed limit is often 60 km/hr on thruways, but in residential areas it is usually only 30 km/hr. The main rule on highways is that gravel roads have a speed limit of 80 km/hr and paved roads 90 km/hr. Signs indicate if other speed limits apply.
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 an oncoming car 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.
Livestock on the road
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.
Seatbelts are required by law
In Iceland, drivers and passengers are required by law to wear seatbelts, regardless of the type of vehicle or where they are seated. Investigations of fatal accidents in recent years have shown that a large majority of those who died did not have their seatbelts buckled. Wearing seatbelts is especially important because of the nature of accidents in Iceland: many of them involve vehicles driving off the road and rolling over. In such accidents, seatbelts often mean the difference between life and death. It should be noted that children must either wear seatbelts, or be in car safety seats, depending on their age and maturity.
Necessary to bear in mind
It is against the law to operate a vehicle in Iceland after having consumed alcohol. The punishment for violating this law is rather stiff.
Iceland requires that vehicle headlights be on at all times, day and night, when driving.
It is strictly forbidden to drive off-road. Such driving results in serious damage to sensitive vegetation, which may take nature decades to repair.
Foreign travellers requiring information regarding road and driving conditions should visit the Public Road Administrations website
It should be noted that the Road Traffic Directorate has produced a video for foreign drivers, which covers all the points that have been mentioned here. The video can be viewed on the Directorate’s website, www.drive.is