Driving in Iceland is an extraordinary experience. It’s the very best way to get a sense of our singular landscape and see what all the fuss is about.
It’s also extraordinary in the sense that the driving conditions, difficulties, and dangers are very real and quite unlike anywhere else.
This is why it is essential to do your research in advance and come prepared. With enough care and attention you will be able to avoid danger and reduce the risk of serious accidents.
What should I keep in mind?
Not all roads in Iceland are paved. In the countryside, you will inevitably encounter gravel roads. Look out for the gravel road sign and follow these simple rules for driving safely:
Reports and studies show that speeding is the most common cause of accidents in Iceland.
Maximum speed limit under the best circumstances is generally 90 km/h on highways. On smaller paved roads it’s 50 km/h, but always look out for signs indicating otherwise.
When driving in Iceland, you will inevitably come across blind rises and blind corners.
These parts are marked with special traffic signs which you should memorize before heading out.
If you see blind corner or blind rise ahead, slow down and move to the right side of the road. There may be another car coming on the other side of the corner or the hill which you are not able see.
Many bridges are only wide enough for one car at a time. Bridges like that are marked with a sign which you should memorize.
If you see a single lane bridge or a sign indicating a bridge like that, reduce speed and move well over. The general rule is that the car which reaches the bridge first has the right to pass, but sometimes this isn’t obvious so please be careful.
You probably already know how important it is to wear one. In Iceland, it is required by law that all drivers and passengers wear a seatbelt. If someone doesn’t have their seatbelt on, the driver will be held responsible.
Iceland’s weather is infamous for its constant and rapid changes. Weather severity is often underestimated by visitors, sometimes with lethal consequences. Conditions can go from sunshine to heavy rain, gale, or blizzard conditions in a matter of minutes or hours. This has serious consequences for road traffic, so check the forecast both the day before and the same day.
A good website for up-to-date weather conditions and predictions is the Icelandic Meterological Office: http://en.vedur.is/
The best way to get information about road conditions and the weather on the road system is to visit The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s website. You can also reach them by phone at 1777 ( or +354 522 1100). For an English answering machine with similar road information, dial 1778.
The Icelandic emergency line is 112.
All off-road driving is strictly prohibited. Your insurance may become invalid if you drive outside a marked road. You may also have to pay a fine of several hundred thousand Krona (ISK).
Iceland’s nature is as fragile as it is unique. Past tourists have gained notoriety in the press and been punished by authorities for driving onto the moss on lava fields or into the glacial lagoon to “wash” their car. Others have been stranded by annual flooding or tides for parking their cars in non-designated areas. Please respect the landscape and do not do these things.
ANIMALS ON THE ROAD
Many serious collisions happen because drivers aren’t aware of animals on the road until too late.
The vast majority of Icelandic sheep and cows are free range and turned out to roam anywhere they want. It’s also not unusual to come across stray horses galloping beside the road. In the east of Iceland, you might even encounter some of our wild herd of reindeer.
Sheep are the most common animal encountered by drivers. They are let out to graze in the wild for the whole summer and it’s quite likely you’ll see a few sitting as close to the road as they can or running out right in front of you.
If you see an animal on the road, slow down and observe it carefully. Animals have a habit of panicking and jumping out in front of your car suddenly, especially if you honk.
If you see a mother sheep on the one side of the road and her babies on the the other side, be even more careful. The little lambs will be terrified by the sound of the car and will run across the road to reach their mother, heedless of your approach. Stop your vehicle and let them cross the road before heading on.
All drivers are legally obligated to keep their headlights on around the clock, all year around, day and night.
Memorize these rules and road signs. Read some more about driving in Iceland. Come prepared, use your common sense, and enjoy our beautiful land!