What to look out for when driving in Iceland
People often assume that driving in Iceland is easy because the road system is usually rather straightforward, and there is not a chance to get lost. While that may be true, driving in Iceland comes with its dangers of which drivers should be aware.
What are the do's when driving in Iceland?
In Iceland, you drive on the right side of the road. The general speed limit is 30-50 km/hour in populated areas, 80 km/hour on gravel roads in rural areas and 90 km/hour on paved roads. Be aware that there can be speeding cameras along the country roads.
Please observe warning signs indicating danger such as sharp turns of a road. Please drive at a safe speed adjusted to conditions and circumstances.
Drivers and passengers must always wear seat belts according to Icelandic law.
Headlights are required at all times while driving in Iceland.
Always inform the police about accidents! Phone no. 112 (police and emergencies). Accidents involving animals have to be reported at the next farm.
What are the difficulties when driving in Iceland?
Weather can change quickly and with it, the driving conditions as well. Also at summertime, difficult situations can be expected, with weather changes and temperatures below zero in the interior of the country. Snow, ground fog and other unforeseen weather conditions can cause unexpectedly dangerous situations.
Depending on the time of year one has to be prepared for sudden weather changes, snowdrifts, icy, slippery roads as well as reduced visibility, making cautious driving necessary.
Especially the wind has to be considered because, in an almost treeless landscape, it can be challenging to make out its strength. Always keep both hands on the steering wheel!
Tip: Look at the weather and road conditions (road.is) if the weather forecast does not look promising
Paved roads can unexpectedly change into gravel roads. Drivers can slow down quickly and expectantly when encountering this situation, therefore causing a risk for the vehicle behind them. Also, you should always keep a long distance between vehicles when driving on gravel as flying rocks can damage car and windshield.
It is easier to lose control of the vehicle for inexperienced drivers on gravel roads because of unexpected turns or when speeding. The roads are narrow and often full of potholes.
93% of all accidents involving foreign drivers have links to the following situations:
1. Transitions from asphalt to gravel roads (for this is not always clearly indicated beforehand)
2. Sheep (a lamb will run in all situations towards its mother)
3. Potholes on dirt roads
There are many single-lane bridges in Iceland. As they can be very narrow, slow down and watch out for oncoming traffic. Those bridges are well marked with warning signs reading "einbreid bru" = single-lane bridge.
When approaching a single-lane bridge, make sure to slow down and check if another vehicle is approaching. The actual rule is that the car closer to the bridge has the right-of-way. In that case, give way by moving unmistakably to the right and stop. It is wise to stop and assess the situation every time.
Check out Safe Travel Iceland (safetravel.is) regarding road signs and dangers to watch out for.
All animals are behaving unconcerned by nature. Pay attention to cattle, horses and sheep which can unexpectedly appear, block the road or run from one side to the other.
Icelandic sheep run free in the highlands, fields and mountains during the summer months (May-September) and can pose the most significant danger. If you see two sheep on one side of the road, chances are there is a third lamb somewhere on the other side of the road, looking for its mother.
Blind hills are hills with short distance visibility. Only right at the top of the hill, you will see how the road will continue. Sometimes these come without any warning, and others with a warning sign, reading "blindhæð" (blind hill).
Slow down and don't speed up the hill.
What are the don'ts when driving in Iceland?
If you are not driving a 4x4 jeep, you are not allowed to drive on roads marked as F-roads. F-roads are roads that access the highlands of Iceland. You will find them labelled as such on the map and there is a warning sign at the beginning of the road. For the F-roads with rivers, the vehicle must be a raised 4x4, but we do not recommend driving through rivers without the necessary experience. No insurance in Iceland covers a flooded engine.
We also recommend that you drive the F-roads in a group of at least two, in case you run into any trouble like a flat tire or engine failure.
Driving off-road is forbidden in Iceland! It damages the delicate nature and carries a financial punishment with significant fines!
If you leave the track and drive out into the unspoiled nature, that is considered driving off-road, and you would be committing a serious offence. Driving on highland roads is not, however, found to be driving off-road and is thus not punishable by fines.
Stopping on the road
Do not stop your car on the main road! If you want to stop, make sure you get off the road and that your vehicle is visible from all angles and not interrupting any traffic.
The countryside may seem remote, but you never know when a car might be coming your way in high speed. Countless accidents, especially deadly, have happened like this in the past. Stopping and parking your vehicle on the side of the road is especially dangerous in wet and icy road conditions.