Iceland’s breathtaking landscapes, from glaciers to geysers, make it a dream destination for travelers. To truly explore this stunning country, renting a car is often the best option. Driving in Iceland, however, requires an understanding of local driving rules and conditions. Whether you’re an experienced driver or a beginner, this guide will help you navigate Iceland’s roads safely and confidently.
A short guide on driving in Iceland
In Iceland, cars drive on the right side of the road. This can be a change for drivers used to driving on the left. Give yourself time to adjust and be careful, especially when turning and crossing intersections.
Speed limits are strictly enforced in Iceland. On paved roads, the general speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mph) in populated areas and 90 km/h (56 mph) on rural roads. The speed limit on gravel roads is 80 km/h (50 mph). Always adhere to these limits as Iceland’s unpredictable weather and road conditions require careful driving.
Traffic lights in Iceland follow the international color code: red for stop, green for go and yellow for caution. Always obey traffic lights, as running a red light can result in hefty fines and potentially dangerous situations.
Roundabouts are common in Iceland and operate in a clockwise direction. Vehicles within the roundabout have the right of way. Yield to traffic entering the roundabout and signal your exit properly to ensure a smooth flow of traffic.
Right of way
At unmarked intersections, yield to vehicles coming from the right. This applies unless road signs indicate otherwise. Always drive with caution, especially when visibility is limited due to Iceland’s varied weather conditions.
Seat belt use
Seatbelts must be worn by all passengers in the vehicle, both front and rear. Failure to wear a seat belt may result in fines for both the driver and passengers.
Children under 135 cm (approximately 4 feet 5 inches) tall must be restrained in an appropriate child safety seat. Ensure that you have the correct child seat for your child’s age and height.
Due to the low light conditions in Iceland, headlights must be used at all times, day and night. This increases visibility and helps other drivers see your vehicle, even during daylight hours.
The use of a hand-held cell phone while driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland. If you need to make a call or use navigation, use a hands-free device or pull over to a safe place.
Iceland has strict laws regarding drinking and driving. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%, which is lower than many other countries. It’s safest to avoid alcohol altogether if you plan to drive.
Icelandic weather can be unpredictable and road conditions can change quickly. Check the weather and road conditions before you travel, especially if you plan to drive on gravel or mountain roads.
There are currently no toll roads in Iceland. However, you may be required to pay a toll when driving through some tunnels, so it’s a good idea to check with your car rental company or local authorities for the latest information.
Gas stations are available in towns and along major roads. However, fuel may be scarce in more remote areas, so plan your fuel stops accordingly.
If you’re renting a car, you’ll need a valid driver’s license, passport and proof of insurance. Some rental companies may also require an international driver’s license, so check with your rental company.
In case of an emergency, dial 112 to reach the Icelandic emergency services. This number covers the police, ambulance and fire brigade.
In conclusion, driving in Iceland as a foreigner is an incredible opportunity to explore the country’s natural wonders. By adhering to local traffic rules, respecting road conditions, and being cautious in unfamiliar territory, you can have a safe and memorable driving experience in this breathtaking Nordic nation. Always put safety first and enjoy the unique adventure that Iceland’s roads offer.
FAQs about driving in Iceland
Can I drive with my foreign driver’s license in Iceland?
Yes, you can drive in Iceland with a valid foreign driver’s license. However, if your license is not in English, Icelandic, or another recognized language, you’ll need an international driving permit (IDP) to accompany your license.
Do I need a 4WD (four-wheel drive) vehicle to drive in Iceland?
While having a 4WD vehicle can be beneficial, especially for exploring off-road areas, it’s not always necessary for most popular tourist destinations accessible via paved and well-maintained roads. If you plan to venture into more remote areas or mountainous regions, a 4WD vehicle might be recommended.
Are there any specific road signs I should be aware of?
Iceland uses international road signs, but there are a few unique signs to watch for, such as “One Lane Bridge” signs indicating single-lane bridges. Additionally, signs indicating that a road is impassable due to weather conditions should be taken seriously.
Are there wildlife concerns while driving in Iceland?
Yes, be cautious of wildlife, especially in rural and less populated areas. Sheep and horses can roam freely, and they might unexpectedly cross the road. Reduce your speed in these areas to avoid accidents.
Can I drive off-road in Iceland?
Driving off-road is strictly prohibited in Iceland to protect the fragile natural environment. Stick to designated roads and trails, and respect any road closures. Off-road driving can result in significant fines and damage to the environment.
How do I handle single-lane bridges?
Iceland has many single-lane bridges. The rule is to yield to the vehicle that arrives at the bridge first. Some bridges have “priority” signs indicating which direction has the right of way. Use common sense and communicate with other drivers to ensure safe passage.
Can I stop on the roads in Iceland?
Stopping on the main roads in Iceland is generally discouraged, especially on narrow roads with limited visibility. Pull over only in designated parking areas, laybys, or safe pull-off zones. This ensures the safety of both you and other drivers, and it prevents obstructing traffic.
Why is it recommended to open car doors carefully while in Iceland?
Opening car doors carefully is recommended due to the strong winds that can suddenly gust across Iceland. The winds can be powerful, especially near the coast or in open areas. Opening car doors without caution could lead to the door getting damaged, or even worse, it could cause injury to you or others. Always use a firm grip and be mindful of the wind conditions when exiting your vehicle.