10 things to keep in mind when driving in Iceland

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.

But first.

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

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© Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson

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.

2. Speed

iceland1
@iheartreykjavik

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!”

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

gravelroad
@icelandmag

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.

 

5. Sheeps

rollur
@icelandallseasons

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.

 

6. Overtaking

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.

7. Cyclist

cyclist
@cyclingtips

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.

 

 

 8. Bridges

bridge
Iceland Like a Local

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”

klaki
Átak Car Rental

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.)

Iceland Moss and LavaWe 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.

With Love,
Niceland

Making the Central Highlands a National park

The central highland is one of Iceland’s greatest treasures containing volcanoes, glaciers, voluminous rivers and waterfalls. Such vast, unpopulated areas where nature alone rules, are hard to come by these days. We Icelanders are in a rare position to stand guard of this treasure, before it’s lost.

We interviewed the assistant of the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources and former project manager of the Hálendið project.

People often get worried about access when there is talk about a national park. The public’s right to enjoy the nature and recreational activities while gaining informative instructions about nature and wildlife will be guaranteed. One of the fundamental bases of a Highland National park will be an understanding of the necessity for all visitors to respect the central highland and treat it in a responsible and suitable manner.

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Making the Central Highland a national park will provide a much better protection of nature and maintaining it. Although it’s vital that nature conversion groups, tourist companies and local authorities all have to play an active part in the administration of the national park.

We spoke with Steinar Kaldal, assistant of the Minister of environmental and Naturla resources, and former project manager of the Hálendið project and asked him about his favourite places on the highland and the best way to inform tourists on how to preserve the highlands. He also told us a story about the effect that the Icelandic nature has on tourists.

“There are so many beautiful places on the central highland, for example just driving up Sprengisandssveg, there is the amazing Kistufell and there you truly are in the center of the highlands. 360 degree view over the highlands. You see Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull.”

“The Highland project doesn’t focus on tourists. The main goal is to protect nature.”

“I remember one time when I brought a man from Japan up to the center highlands, he was getting more agitated as we got higher. Then at one point he told us to stop the car instantly, we thought he was going to puke or something, but he just started to running around. The nature overwhelmed him, he was used to being in big cities and having a lot of people around him all the time. He had never seen anything as vast and unpopulated in his life.”

Hraun-2400

How Iceland succeeded with renewable energy

While some countries rely mostly on fossil fuels to make their energy, Iceland relies on 100% renewable energy sources to make their electricity. Hydroelectricity accounts for 73% and the other 27% is geothermal energy. In addition 9 out of every 10 buildings in Iceland are heated with geothermal energy. The cost of geothermal energy for residential heating in Iceland is the lowest in the world. Looking at how Iceland has achieved it’s success is increasingly important in an era where climate change is becoming a more serious problem every day.

Learning points

The United Nations performed an analysis on Iceland’s success with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. They analysis resulted in a few learning points for other countries that have access to the resources needed.

  • Cohesion between municipalities, government and the public
  • Local empowerment and public engagement
  • A favorable legal and regulatory framework
  • Long term planning for renewable energy implementation
  • Showcasing every step of success to the public

History

Excluding how local farmers used geothermal pools for washing and bathing, geothermal and hydroelectric resources in Iceland were not taken advantage of for centuries. It wasn’t until the year 1904 that the first hydroelectric power station was built. It was only 9 kW but it was enough to make Hafnarfjörður the first electrically lit town in Iceland. This power station got the ball rolling and in 1915 a lot of homemade mini-hydroelectric power stations made a total of 370 kW of energy. The hydroelectric power plants got bigger and bigger and in 1965 the first big hydroelectric power plant Búrfellsvirkjun was built. In the same year the power company Landsvirkjun was founded which is by far the largest electricity generator in Iceland and one of the ten largest producers of renewable energy in Europe. It is owned by the state of Iceland which means that manipulating resources for power creation is done by democratically elected representatives instead of corporate big shots.

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Búrfellsvirkjun  hydroelectric power plant. Photo by  Richard Bartz

Simultaneous to this hydroelectric plant building process Icelanders started taking advantage of their geothermal resources. The first documented use of geothermal heating came in 1907 when a farmer ran a concrete pipe from a hot spring to his house to get steam for heating. In 1930 the first pipeline was constructed in Iceland’s capital Reykjavík to heat the local hospital, two schools and some nearby houses. The government of Iceland established a geothermal drilling fund that loaned money for research and test drilling in the late 1960’s. In 1969 the first geothermal power station using steam turbines was built in Iceland. Since then 5 more geothermal power stations have been built.

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Hrauneyjafoss power station. Photo by Landsvirkjun

The Blue Lagoon

An interesting side product of the geothermal adaptation came in 1976. A Geothermal power station was built in Svartsengi in Iceland’s southern peninsula. The power station was the first geothermal power station in the world that was both used for electric power generation and hot water production for district heating.  The waste water of the plant was supposed to form a stream and run down into the Atlantic. Instead the Sulfur in the water filled up the holes in the nearby lava fields. The hot waste water made what is now known as the Blue Lagoon. A local resident got permission to bathe in the lagoon as a treatment for his psoriasis which paved the way for more people to use the lagoon. Now the Blue Lagoon has become one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland. However most tourists are not aware of the fact that the Blue Lagoon was originally an environmental accident.

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The Blue Lagoon. Photo by Landsvirkjun

Sources

http://os.is/gogn/OS-arsskyrslur/OS-arsskyrsla-2016.pdf

http://www.nea.is/media/utgafa/GD_loka.pdf

http://www.landsvirkjun.com/company/history

http://www.landsvirkjun.com/company/powerstations

https://unchronicle.un.org/article/iceland-s-sustainable-energy-story-model-world

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Iceland