Driving in Iceland:
- Drivers and passengers are required by law to wear seatbelts.
- It should be noted that children must either wear seat belts 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.
- Iceland requires that vehicle headlights be on at all times when driving – both day and night. Note that the “auto” setting is not always enough.
- 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, risking falling asleep.
- The use of hands-free equipment is an obligation when talking on a mobile phone and driving at the same time. However it is recommended not to use the phone at all while driving.
- Please watch the following videos, both Driving with Elfis and Iceland Academy to get to know more about driving safely in Iceland
Signs along the road (you may not have seen before):
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 every time as the other driver may not be aware of this rule.
This sign indicates that a single-lane bridge is ahead:
Paved road changes to gravel
Sadly, accidents do occur on rural roads where a paved road suddenly changes to gravel. The main reason is that drivers do not reduce their speed before it changes to gravel and consequently lose control of the vehicle. 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. Flying pieces of gravel are likely to damage your windshields if speed is not reduced.
This sign indicates a changeover to gravel:
Blind hills and curves, where lanes are not separated, should be approached with caution. These are widely found throughout Iceland and test the driver’s skill.
This sign indicates a blind hill ahead:
In several places there are blue traffic signs indicating the recommended maximum speed and where drivers should realize that the permitted speed limit can’t be recommended because of the driving conditions.
This sign indicates recommended speed limit:
Animals on the road
In Iceland you can expect livestock to be on or alongside the road. It’s usually sheep but sometimes horses and even cattle or reindeer. It’s important to reduce speed as they may well run across the road in attempt to join other members of their group. This is common all over the country.
This sign indicates possible livestock along the road:
Visiting the Icelandic highlands is popular in the summertime for the few weeks that the highland F-roads are open. During this time Safetravel works with wardens in the highlands to monitor and communicate conditions with travelers. For updated information on highland conditions and advice on highland driving visit Safetravel.is.
- A 4X4 is required for all highland F-roads but note that not all 4X4’s are suited to all F-roads and conditions!
- Check weather conditions often as these are indicators of F-Road conditions.
- F-Roads are rough with slow driving conditions, you won’t exceed 40km/h so plan extra time.
- Most highland F-roads have unbridged river crossings on them – a safe crossing requires BOTH driver experience and a 4X4 with good ground clearance.
- River conditions change constantly, often a river that is passable early in the morning is impassable by noon
- Driver experience is just as important as vehicle size – most often cars get stuck in the river because of driver error not vehicle size
- Some roads are known to have more challenging river crossings but all rivers can become hazardous after rainfall or glacial melt (warm temperatures)
- THERE IS NO INSURANCE FOR RIVER CROSSINGS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD – river crossings are at your own risk and you will pay thousands of dollars if you get stuck
- Put your car in a low-gear and cross the river SLOWLY (5 km/h) and steady – do not switch gears while in the water!
- Always try to go down stream as going against the current will increase the risk of water going into your engine.
- Do NOT enter the river where it seems calm – this is a sign of depth and is not the ideal spot to cross.
- Do not be fooled by big modified vehicles which can cross the rivers at higher speeds because they are equipped with a snorkel – allowing the oxygen intake of the engine to be at a higher point than on normal vehicles
Look for signs like this one and the measuring poles in the rivers. The colors indicate the depth of the rivers but keep in mind that not all rivers have this helpful tool:
It is illegal to drive off-road in Iceland!
- If you can’t cross a river at the designated crossing you must turn around – It is illegal to drive off the road to find a different place to cross.
- Driving off road can cause damage to sensitive vegetation – tire marks and the damage they cause can take years to repair.
- If you reach a point where you can’t drive further – turn around or walk a short way to assess the situation (leave a note in your vehicle with your intended return time).
Winter driving in Iceland can be challenging so its important to prepare yourself for your trip. Check www.road.is to see which roads are open as many roads closed during the winter season. Before setting out check to see your lights, brakes and engine are in good working condition. If the idea of driving on snowy or icy roads makes you uncomfortable you can book a tour with a driver and guide. Remember to leave your travel plan at www.safetravel.is.
Recommended equipment for winter driving in Iceland:
- Snow tires – roads are often slippery and snow covered
- A snow scraper – you’ll need to scrape ice and snow off all windows and mirror before departing
- A shovel – if you get stuck in the snow you can dig yourself out
- A headlamp or flashlight – due to limited light in winter you will want to have a light with you in case of emergency
- An extra blanket / warm clothing – if you get stuck you may have to wait some time before roads are cleared
- A cell phone with internet – checking road conditions at www.road.is before entering a new area means you could avoid driving on a road with poor conditions
Tips for winter driving and travel in Iceland:
- Be flexible in your planning because weather and road conditions can often force you to change your plans
- If you’re planning to drive a lot during your winter trip you might want to get a 4X4 which would provide more comfort in winter conditions
- Be aware that camper vans are wind sensitive vehicles which are more vulnerable in the storms that are frequent in Iceland
- Accidents of all kind can happen (ex. sand storms, black ice, collision, etc.) so its good to buy the best insurance you can afford for your trip
- Watch out for car doors in the wind – they can easily get damaged so you must hang onto them when you exit the car!
- Even though the speed limit says 90 km/h – it doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate during winter conditions. Make sure you reduce your speed accordingly.
- Check weather constantly as it is always changing! Look out for winds that exceed 15 m/s as mountainous areas could produce very strong wind gusts!
- Often snow is plowed into rest stops/pull outs, this means you will have to find another safe place to stop for a photo. Do NOT stop in the middle of the road for any reason! A photo is not worth risking a life over.
Accidents can still happen even to the best prepared driver. Inform yourself about the road and weather conditions and accept that sometimes conditions are not okay for travelling.