Driving in Iceland
For many people, Iceland’s main appeal is its dramatic landscapes. Given the lack of public transport, these are often best accessed by car. However, adjusting to driving in another country can be difficult; this is somewhat amplified in Iceland, where the landscape is subject to extreme weather conditions. We’ve put together a list of factors that we feel you should be aware of before deciding to rent a car and drive during your visit to Iceland.
In Iceland, the normal speed limit is 50kmph (30mph) in many urban areas and 90kmph (55mph) in rural areas. However, drivers are advised to use their initiative when battling poor weather conditions and are expected to drive more carefully on treacherous ground. Speed cameras can be found on numerous roads and will always been seen in tunnels, so be aware and stay under the limit as speeding fines can often be very expensive.
Throughout Iceland there are a number of roads which are known as ‘F-roads’. These roads lead to Iceland’s highlands and are normally open from June through to September. They are known for their strong winds, thanks to their high altitude, and they are not frequently maintained. Due to the condition of the mountainous roads, F-roads are only suitable for the likes of 4x4 or AWD; if you drive a standard passenger car then you are unable to drive on F-roads. F-roads can also be closed at short notice if the weather conditions pose a danger to drivers, so be sure to check before you travel.
Similarly to the country’s F-roads, there are a great number of gravel roads across more rural areas. Naturally, these require tyres with a good amount of grip, such as a 4x4. Driving fast on gravel roads can not only increase the likelihood of skidding, but you’ll also disturb the debris and could risk scratches and dents on the vehicle, which you could be charged for at the end of your rental if you haven’t paid for gravel protection insurance.
As well as mountains, Iceland’s landscape also features a lot of water. When travelling across rivers, regardless of how big or small, it is important to bear in mind the following information. First, assess where is best for you to cross. It’s crucial to drive where the river is at its shallowest, with water running slowly, and ideally a gravely river bed; the water depth should be no more than half of your tyre depth. These factors pose the minimal risk to yourself and your vehicle. Bear in mind that if you are renting, any damage caused to the car could incur charges.
In most cases, you’ll be able to avoid crossing through rivers by using one of Iceland’s many bridges. However, these bridges also come with risks, as they are generally extremely narrow and will only allow one car to cross at a time.
Although the landscape might seem tempting, driving off-road in Iceland is actually illegal. Nature is taken very seriously in Iceland and off-roading can cause damage to the landscape, which could take years to recover. Therefore, it’s important to respect your environment and know that driving off-road in Iceland can result in a hefty fine and in some cases imprisonment; satisfy your need for a thrill with a trip on the F-roads instead.
As in most rural locations, many areas of Iceland are inhabited by wild animals; these are part of what makes the country so enchanting. However, it also means that they’re liable to wander onto the roads. Most common are sheep, though horses and cows are also known to linger on roadsides; in east-Iceland you may even see some reindeer about! With this in mind, you should stay alert at all times and make sure to slow down drastically when passing animals. It’s also important to note that feeding animals through roadside fences is prohibited.
Ash and Sad Storms
Both sand and ash storms can occur in Iceland so it is important that you are aware of this. Not only are these a hazard when driving, as they hugely restrict your vision, they can also cause major damage to the exterior of the vehicle, particularly the paintwork, glass, mirrors and lights. The best option is to protect your vehicle with Sand and Ash Protection (SAAP), which ensures that the rental company will be liable for any damage caused under such circumstances. If you are out and about and you come across some stormy weather the best thing you can do is find a sheltered location where you can stop and wait it out.
While it’s safest to pull over when you’re faced with stormy weather conditions, this is not recommended during day-to-day driving. Recently, there has been an increase in reports of problems and accidents caused by tourists stopping on the roadsides to take photos; we urge you to please not do this. Instead, stop in safe and secure locations where you will not put yourself or anyone else at risk.
Overall, if you are ever in doubt about where and when it is safe to drive in Iceland, it’s best to contact either your rental company or the local authorities. Vegagerdin (Icelandic Road Administration) offer a variety of different information about road closures and road safety, and you can contact them either by calling them at 1777 (or +354 522 1100) and for English speaking you can call 1778.
You should also leave a travel plan with a friend or your hotel. This way someone will know where you intend to be, should anything happen; you can also leave your own travel plan here at www.safetravel.is. And finally, you can download the 112 Iceland app; this app will send out a text to the Icelandic emergency services at 112 with your phones GPS location with it, before then calling the 113 services.
For more information regarding choice of vehicles that will be best for your trip, then feel free to contact our excellent team of experts and they’ll be more than happy to assist you anyway that they can. You can contact our office on +354 511 3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.