Driving in Iceland

Iceland offers the traveller an adventure in a beautiful and rugged landscape. However, experience shows that the forces of Icelandic nature can be harsh and inhospitable, and travelers are well-advised to exercise caution and respect for the country's natural environment.

Unfortunately, there have been accidents in the past few years involving foreign tourists traveling around the country. The more serious injuries are caused by road traffic accidents where people drive too fast in unfamiliar conditions and do not wear seat belts.

PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY ON THE GRAVEL FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY!!!!

Preparation

Good preparation can reduce the risk of accidents significantly and ensure a pleasant and safe journey.

  • Let somebody know of your travel plans
  • Check road conditions – information available from the Public Roads Administration, tel. 1777 or at www.road.is
  • Check the weather forecast – information available from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, tel. 902-0600, the Teletext or at www.vedur.is
  • When driving into the highlands it is a good idea to travel in groups of 2 or more cars. That way one car can drive after assistance in an emergency or help free a stuck car. If you are travelling alone, you can ask fellow travelers at camping sites and guesthouses to group with you.
  • Plan your trip so that you have frequent breaks and time to drive at slower pace. The Icelandic road conditions require concentration from the driver and the conditions of highland roads can decrease average speeds significantly.

Mobile phone connection is fairly reliable in towns, but can be very unstable in the highlands. Therefore, do not rely on a mobile phone as your sole safety measure. Travelers intending to explore the highlands outside of the commonly used tracks are encouraged to use the Travelers' Reporting Service of the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR), tel. 570-5900. The general Emergency Number in Iceland is 112.

Driving - Local Regulations and Driving Tips

Road conditions in Iceland differ substantially. The “Ring-Road” (Highway 1) and the main roads in the Capital area are mostly paved, but other country and highland roads are often narrow, steep and washboarded gravel tracks with potholes and hairpin corners. Due to the size and abilities of 4x4 vehicles and the inexperience of driving 4x4’s, some tourists have a tendency to overestimate the vehicles’ and their own driving skills. Jeeps are easier to roll over than ordinary road cars as they are heavier and have a higher center of gravity.

Following driving tips may be helpful to drivers unfamiliar to the Icelandic driving conditions:

  • Reduce speed when you encounter other vehicles on gravel roads.
  • Where roads transition from paved to gravel you need to reduce speed considerably. Many drivers lose control of their vehicles in these transition zones.
  • Blind hill tops are common in Iceland – make sure you keep right and reduce speed.
  • Many road bridges are one-lane – reduce speed and expel consideration to other drivers.
  • Special warning signs indicate danger ahead, such as sharp bends, but there is generally no separate sign to reduce speed.
  • Country roads are often raised on embankments against winter snows. The steep embankments are subject to roll-overs when drivers drive of the road intentionally and unintentionally – use seat belts.
  • In the summertime, Iceland is sunlit 24 hours a day. Drivers should be aware of this and take frequent breaks, to prevent falling asleep behind the wheel.
  • The speed limit in urban areas is generally 50 kmph. Outside towns, it is 90 km, on paved roads and 80 kmph on gravel roads. Always adjust your speed to the conditions.
  • Domestic animals are often close to, or even on, country roads. Drivers who hit animals may be required to pay for the damage and hitting an animal at speed could cause serious human and material damage.
  • The use of hands-free kits is compulsory for mobile phone use whilst driving.
  • Headlamps are required to be lit 24 hours a day while the vehicle is in operation.
  • The use of front and back seat belts is compulsory – they save lives.
  • In Iceland all off road driving is prohibited by law – Driving outside the tracks or marked paths ruins the vegetation and is heavily penalized as well as not being appresiated by the locals.
  • Icelandic law forbids driving under the influence of alcohol.