Every country has its own traffic rules and driving in Iceland can sometimes be more challenging than people expect. Here is a small guide to the do’s and don’ts of driving in Iceland. Let’s stay safe out there!
Wear seatbelts and keep your headlights on
Seatbelts are required by law in Iceland. That means your seatbelt should be on at all times, even when driving a short distance. They save lives you know, so you can never be too diligent. You are also required by law to always keep the car‘s headlights on. This is doubly important in winter when the days are short and dark. Seeing other cars and pedestrians around you always helps when driving a car (or anything for that matter). Oh and please use your indicator, other drivers aren‘t mind readers (apart from Derren Brown. Mr. Brown if you’re reading this feel free to skip ahead to the next section.) But be aware that native drivers sometimes forget this fact as well, so always keep a safe distance between cars.
Check the forecast and drive according to conditions
Now this one might seem like common sense, and it is. But that doesn‘t mean it isn‘t important. Icelandic weather can be very unpredictable and it is therefore vital to keep up to date with what‘s going on before you set off on your drive. Even though you have experience driving in winter and on mountain roads, conditions in Iceland can be very different from what you know. Strong winds, sudden snowstorms (even in spring) and thick fog can all take you by surprise and you‘ll need to drive accordingly. Don‘t be afraid to slow down or pull over where convenient and wait for the conditions to improve. Icelandic weather is a force of, well, nature, and there‘s no shame in respecting its power. Here are some useful websites for information on weather and road conditions.
Familiarise yourself with the signs/one lane bridges
Iceland is pretty good at putting up road signs but of course they’re of no use if you don‘t know what they mean. Finding out before you set off on your adventure will help you navigate the many blind hills, sharp bends and one lane bridges of the Icelandic countryside. And remember, the first car to reach a one lane bridge has the right of way.
Have your sunglasses handy
Remember that classic Corey Hart song Sunglasses at Night? Some of you might think that taking sunglasses with you on your winter trip to Iceland makes as much sense as the existence of that song, but you‘d be wrong! The winter sun in Iceland can be a sneaky SOB. It is both strong and low in the sky and will hit you straight in the eye while driving. And if you’re driving in summer, the sun is out almost 24/7 so it just makes sense to have your sunglasses handy. Plus, they make everyone look cool.
Look out for the sheep!
If you‘re driving in the spring or summer you will see a lot of sheep around the fields and by the road. Unfortunately sheep traffic education is still in its infancy, so until we get them up to speed on the rules of the road, you will have to make allowances for their tendency to bolt across it without notice. In some areas you might encounter horses and reindeer as well, so don‘t trust them either.
Drive off road
I can not stress this enough. DON‘T DO IT! Icelandic nature is extremely fragile and driving off road can cause damages that will take decades to heal. If you see something in the distance that you want to explore but there‘s no road leading to it, simply park the car and hike there. So much healthier for everyone.
Stop in the middle of the road
I know I just told you to park your car if you see something you want to explore. But of course nothing is ever so simple. Please don‘t just stop your car in the middle of the road and get out to take pictures. Sort of parking it to the side isn‘t good enough either. It may be easy to forget in all the isolation you sometimes experience in Iceland, but there is traffic, especially on the Ring Road, and a parked car on the road can be extremely dangerous. So find an outlet (there are plenty, just drive a little further) and park there so you can take pictures without a care.
Drive fast on gravel roads
You shouldn’t really drive fast anywhere. The speed limit in residential areas is 30 km/h (18 mi/h); in urban areas 50 km/h (31 mi/h); on paved highway roads 90 km/h (56 mi/h); and on gravel roads in rural areas 80 km/h (50 mi/h) and there are speed cameras and police patrols all around the country. You also need to be particularly careful when driving on gravel roads, especially when the road turns from asphalt to gravel. If you hit the gravel to fast the car might lose its grip on the road. The small stones can also cause a lot of damages to the car so it‘s better to go slow and enjoy the rattling.
Be scared of the locals
Despite our Viking ancestry Icelanders are a friendly bunch and are almost always ready to help out a traveller in need. Whether you just need some instructions or you have a more complicated problem the locals will do their best to assist you. So roll down your window and say hi, we won‘t bite!
For more information on driving in Iceland see here