Now that summer is just around the corner and travellers rush to experience Icelandic nature and it’s magnetic surroundings we feel it is our duty to write about how the traffic works in our beautiful country. Driving in Iceland is so much different than elsewhere.
There are few “unspoken” rules that Icelanders know through their parents, driving teachers and experience by traveling in all possible conditions. The country road traffic is dangerous if not followed by these set of rules. This is common sense for most of us but yet, almost every time we Icelanders talk about the traffic and how foreigners act in it, we are surprised by how little they know about it and what is absolutely vital to be safe on the roads.
We quite often hear of accidents that could have been prevented just by informing all of you travelers, so we decided to take the matter into our own hands.
Here we list 10 things to keep in mind while driving on the roads in Iceland. We urge you to explore this concept better by asking habitants about their advices. Or travelers that have visited and know what it is like driving in our country. What you can expect and not and most importantly how you can protect yourself and others from harm.
The law – of course we do not need to address this part but we are going to anyway. You will need an actual real driver license and please, please… do NOT take this for granted by getting it online and pass by driving a virtual reality car. That is in no way going to prepare you to driving in Iceland. No way. ☺ Consider yourself warned.
Your phone is not to be used while driving. Period. But of course our dear reader, you know all of this.
1. Stopping cars in the middle of the road
Number ONE reason for this article. Is this pretty little fact that we do so understand why travellers do, but pretty please! This is crazy. While travelling in Iceland you will experience nature like never before. It will make you want to stop the car every now and then and just observe, be present, adore every little detail about how the horses act in the breathtaking sunset for example.
Now, this is the most dangerous thing you could ever do! Do not do it!
The roads are small but the traffic can be very fast and unpredictable. If you stop the car in the middle of the road, even for just few seconds, you are seriously inviting danger home. Find a spot where you can park the car properly from the road. You can never know how fast the next car is driving and we promise you, that you cannot put proper evaluation on it how safe it will be. Be smart and be safe. We want you to experience nature not our hospitals.
We are pretty safe when it comes to speed here. On highway one the speed limit is around 90 km/h. Most of us drive around 100 but everything above that will get you a ticket. There is no need to rush but consider this. If you are uncertain of how fast you need to go, stay on the right side of the road, so the ones that are in a “hurry” can get past. Driving slow is very dangerous here and that is especially when driving the main road, while travelling. So keep in mind how fast you are going and try to make it easy for everyone. The roads are small and look different than most of others countries main roads, that will make you think of them differently and do not underestimate the danger of them.
3. “All of the lights!”
At all times keep the lights on! This is taught and kept by law. We never know how or when the weather will change in Iceland and this makes it easier to locate other cars and specially in difficult weather conditions.
So please make sure that every light works properly before driving. And use the turning signal. Always!
4. The gravel roads
Driving in Iceland can be difficult at times, mainly because of the Icelandic weather. There is SO much of untouched nature that Icelanders strive to preserve that results in roads that are not quite well obtained and maybe just a little scary due to their sizes in the middle of the mountain, with very little or even no safety “net” to keep you from driving right down it. Most of them are not well maintained. Some have endless holes in them that will make you go crazy after driving in them for an hour or so, some are so small that you think that how in the world two lanes can fit into that small area (some are not, but we manage) and others include crazy highs and lows where you need to trust your instinct for your life, now we are of course being a little sarcastic but really, we have all experienced this at some point when driving in conditions like this.
If there is one thing we recommend, keep an extra tire in the trunk, drive slowly and do not, absolutely never think at one point you know it all. Even after a 10 day trip. We are always careful driving here and that is because we know how little it takes to mess up and end up in a ditch somewhere.
Not to scare you though, we do this all year and we are still here. But there is a need to address this issue about the Icelandic country roads for a very good reason! We want you guys safe! So consider yourself warned, go prepared.
Oh! Our lovely sheeps! We love them. Especially their adorable little offsprings.
Please do not think that you should run them over in case of an dilemma. Not because we think of them so fondly, no because it is more dangerous for you to hit them than driving off road. Just be aware of your surroundings. Drive really slow or even stop the car if you can drive to the side of it safely when you see a group of them appear near the road. Those adorable creatures are so stupid sometimes that it can be a hilarious experience just to watch them cope with the traffic. They could decide to try to outrun you or even chicken dare you. Don’t be weak and give in! It is dangerous! So stay focused. Be safe.
This is the one thing that so many of us (Icelanders) talk about and find difficult to cope with. We need to address this. In case there are two lanes in same direction,then the left lane is for the ones that drive faster than the others. If you need to overtake, use the turning signal and give the drivers some time to notice it. Be sure that you can see the traffic that is coming towards you well, do not practice this when driving upwards or “bent” roads. Have a clear view, and do it safely.
On the other hand, if you notice someone behind you preparing to overtake. Slow a little bit down and even notify him by using the “stefnuljós” to the right. Do not try to prevent the driver for doing this for some reason by stepping on the speed pedal or moving towards the middle of the road. That is a very dangerous act.
You will see a lot of them on the high roads. Be aware and respectful. If you need to notify a cyclist of your presence do it gently please, so you won´t cause them to fall off or something worse.
We have a lot of one lane bridges in Iceland. We have this unspoken rule of slowing down when we notice the warning signs, just be aware, do not stop the car in the middle of them or try to be the first one driving over.
Mutual respect is the best and just relax.
9. “If you don’t like the weather here, just wait a “moment”
We have all kinds of weather conditions, if you are lucky you get to experience all of them! Be prepared, read the weather report, ask the front desk at your hotel what you would need to pack for the trip ahead to be safe and use all the above “rules” to follow. This is going to help you to enjoy our country better.
10. Driving outside the road (“Utanvegaakstur” – try to pronounce that, learn it, respect it.)
We love that you love nature, that you want to experience it like never before, take in all the energy that you could possibly experience. But we want the Icelandic nature to be like this forever. Don’t drive where there are no roads, respect our nature, embrace it and it will reward you in a beautiful way. Karma has its way with things. One more thing, the elves don’t like it when you mess with their homes. Ask any habitat and they will give you better understanding of this.
If you read the whole thing, THANK YOU! We appreciate it and consider yourself an serious world class traveller! We look forward to being your friend here in Iceland! And we hope that your trip here will open your eyes to a new, magical, beautiful world that we call Iceland.