Ah the open road! There is nothing better than a road trip for taking you out of the ordinary. Driving can really connect you with the land that you are passing through. You get to see the scenery change, get to know the distances, the contours and the place names (good luck with that in Iceland!). Driving in Iceland gives you the freedom to stop where and when you like and to take your own sweet time. With its low population and incredible scenery Iceland is definitely one of the best places in the world for a road trip.
There are a few things to keep in mind though. Iceland is no ordinary country and it comes with its own set of quirks and peculiarities. In this article we take a good look at the basic rules of the road in Iceland. We will find out about the speed limit in the different areas, road surfaces and driving laws. We will also explore some of the potential hazards that you might be presented with when driving in Iceland. Whether you choose to rent a car or hire a motorhome the same rules will apply. Driving through Iceland will be awesome so with this article we want to make sure that you can make the very best of it.
Iceland speed limit
So let’s start with the basics - the Iceland speed limit. This might sound like a simple law to follow but this is where a lot of people can slip up. Picture this. You’re in a shiny new rental camper or car, the road is clear, the scenery out of this world and you get a little carried away and ease your foot down on the accelerator. Easily done. But please don’t! For one the speeding fine in Iceland will really put you off. A ticket can set you back as much as US $800 and will be at leastUS $200 depending on how fast you were going and where. Speed cameras are often not easy to spot either so you won’t know until later if you’ve been flashed.
So it really is a good idea to keep your eyes out for signs and stick well within the speed limit. Both for the sake of safety and for the sake of your bank balance! Here are the general speed limits on Iceland’s roads.
Towns, cities and urban area speed limit 50km/h (under 30mph)
Rural paved roads speed limit 90km/h (under 55mph)
Rural gravel roads speed limit 80km/h (under 49mph)
These speed limits are meant as a general guide, but may change a little in certain areas. If for example you are approaching a change in road surface, a single lane bridge or a steep incline. There will always be really clear speed limit signs to let you know in plenty of time though. So keep your eyes open and all will be well.
It is also required by law that all passengers wear a seatbelt. Not buckling up is another finable offence. There are certain rules around car seats if you are travelling in Iceland with young children. For more information on this visit the Icelandic Travel Authority Website.
Road surfaces and which side of the road to drive
In Iceland vehicles drive on the right and overtake on the left. This is the norm in much of Europe and the US, however UK drivers will need to swap sides.
It is important to be aware that the road surfaces in Iceland vary. There are some very rough gravel roads, some easier going gravel roads and then smooth sealed asphalt. Well-travelled routes such as the Iceland Ring Road or the Golden Circle are sealed asphalt for the most part. However, many of the tracks leading off of them to the national park visitor centres or parking lots will be gravel. These are usually short stretches of gravel road, but it is good to be expecting them and to moderate your driving accordingly.
Mountain roads and driving off road
It is illegal to drive off road anywhere in Iceland, even if you are driving in a 4x4 jeep. The delicate and slow-growing plant life of Iceland is extremely easily damaged. This law is to protect the bio diversity of the island so it is a really important one.
Weather permitting all other routes will be accessible if you are driving a four wheel drive camper or car. This includes the high mountain roads, F roads and gravel tracks. In winter all F roads will be closed, as will many other roads if conditions become too icy and hazardous.
If you are driving two wheel drive camper or car rentals then you will need to avoid driving F roads entirely. The majority of other roads will be accessible to you though. There will always be large clear signage letting you know which vehicles can drive on which roads and you’ll be warned in plenty of time.
Unusual potential hazards
Stopping in the middle of the road
Iceland’s landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful. Sometimes a view might be so stunning that a driver will be tempted to stop right there in the road and take pictures. Obviously this can be quite dangerous. There are regular pull-in parking areas across the whole of Iceland’s road network for just this purpose. The Northern Lights might suddenly appear or the sunset over the mountain might be just too perfect to miss. For these moments you won’t need to drive far to find a safe place to pull over. Be aware though that others might not always obey the rules. So keep an eye out for stopped cars and wanderers with camera in hand.
Snow and windstorms
The weather in Iceland can get wild. As such it is essential that you keep track of it and heed any weather warnings. Snow and ice will obviously disrupt your journey but high winds can too. During the summer months the weather is generally calmer and milder, but none the less an unexpected storm might whip up and effect your travel times. It’s always good to give yourself extra time on a road trip, just in case the weather turns.
If you are travelling in Iceland by road keep watch out for any white dots in the distance. There may well be wandering sheep in the middle of the road! There are upwards of 800,000 sheep in Iceland and many of these are free roaming. Many of the roads in Iceland are unfenced and cut right across grazing and pastureland. So it really is quite common to come across a roving sheep or even a flock. So keep your speed down if there are sheep in the area and be extra aware at any bends in the road.
Wind and gravel damage
One of the most common forms of damage to rental campers and rental cars in Iceland is wind damage. This applies specifically to vehicle doors being caught in the wind and blown open forcefully. Always be aware of which way the wind is blowing and bear that in mind when you park. Be cautious and controlled when opening a door.
The other common form of damage when you rent a motorhome or car in Iceland is gravel damage to the paintwork. There are so many gravel tracks leading to campgrounds or places of interest that they are impossible to avoid. You can get extra vehicle insurance in Iceland to cover this form of damage and it is usually well worth going for.
Running out of fuel
Most of the main routes in Iceland will have regular towns and service stations where you can fill up with gas. All around south Iceland, the Ring Road and the Golden Circle there will be regular places to top up your tank. However, out in the quieter areas of this sparsely populated country gas stations can become very few and far between. You will sometimes find that the more remote ones are unmanned too. So you will need to carry credit cards with you to pay at these. The general rule of thumb is that if you see a gas station pull over and top up. You might even consider carrying a back-up canister of gas with you in the trunk if you are heading into remote areas or travelling in Iceland in winter.
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