Brief Guide to Driving in Iceland
One of the main means of transport in Iceland is the car, as there are no rail lines. This amazing country offers magnificent landscapes and the best way to explore them is renting a car. Driving in Iceland is a wonderful experience which demands special care as well as respect for their natural environments. Therefore, before starting your adventure, you should keep in mind some aspects:
In Iceland people drive on the right. The main road of Iceland is called Route 1. This road, with a total length of 1339 km, circles the entire island and connects the most populated areas of Iceland. It is mostly paved and it is plowed through the winter.
Mountain roads are indicated with an F. They are usually narrow gravel roads with bridge to ford therefore you will need a 4×4 vehicle to drive on these roads. The F-roads are opened during the summer and some of them in July.
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In Iceland, there are a significant numbers of unpaved roads, especially in mountain and inland areas. These roads have a surface of loose gravel so you should drive carefully and reduce your speed when you meet other vehicles.
Be especially cautious in blind hills and blind curves. Slow down and keep to the right-hand edge of the road.
It is common to find animals on the road, especially sheep, so always keep your concentration on the road. Drivers who cause injury or death to such animals may be liable to claims for compensation.
It is strictly prohibited off-road driving because any minor damage to the environment could be irreparable.
In winter, the weather is particularly unstable and daylight hours are limited. Due to the snow and / or ice from October to April, traffic on roads and paths could be especially difficult. In fact, from November to May the use of special winter tires is mandatory. There are studded tires that allow driving in extreme conditions. However, maintenance services try to ensure the circulation of vehicles on the main roads at all times. Another element to take into consideration in Iceland is the wind. There are special signals that indicate wind speed, providing a warning to the driver.
A significant number of mountain roads are closed until the end of June, or even longer if the conditions of the road are not fit for driving. In most of these roads, it is highly recommended that two or more cars travel together. Before setting out on a journey, find out about road conditions in a tourist information office, the Public Road Administration, tel.: +354-1777 (8:00 – 16:00) or www.road.is.
Average opening times on popular F-roads in Iceland:
Lakagígar (F206) – Jun 12th.
Fjallabaksleið nyrðri (Landmannalaugar, Eldgjá) (F208) – Jun 12th
Landmannaleið, Landmannalaugar (F225) – Jun 15th
Kjölur (Hveravellir) (F35) – Jun 11th
Sprengisandur (F26) – Jun 27th
Askja (F88) – Jun 20th
Kverkfjöll (F902) – Jun 19th
Uxahryggir (F52) – Jun 5th
Kaldidalur (F550) – Jun 13th
Most of them are single-lane and the first car to reach the bridge will have the right-of-way.
Unbridged river crossings for 4WD vehicles are marked on maps with the letter “V.” Water flow at these crossings can change dramatically and unpredictably. Water levels are usually lower earlier in the day.
Before crossing a glacial river, it is necessary to examine its velocity, depth and bottom. If you find that you would be unwilling to wade across the river on foot, you should not attempt to drive across it. Seek advice from experienced drivers and watch how and where they cross.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all the passengers of the vehicle. Furthermore, children under 6 years must use a car seat according to their height and weight. Children under 12 years or people with less than 1, 40 m of height or less than 40 kg are not allowed to travel in the front seat.
The driver is responsible of any minor under 15 years who does not wear the seatbelt.
Headlights must be turned on 24 hours a day throughout the year.
30 – 50 km/h in urban areas
80 km/h in rural roads and gravel roads
90 km/h in paved roads
It is strictly prohibited to drive under the influence of alcohol. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%. The offense has a fine of approximately 70,000 ISK (450 €) and the withdrawal of driving license for 2 months.
You will need your driving license, your passport, proof of insurance and your vehicle registration.
In case of emergency
The emergency number in Iceland is 112 and it is toll free.
Don’t move your car (unless it is in a dangerous position which might lead to another accident) and wait for the police to arrive. It is a legal requirement to carry a warning triangle and this should be used if necessary. Take pictures of the accident for police and insurance purposes.
Petrol stations of the Reykjavík area are open from Monday to Saturday 7:30 – 20:00 and on Sundays 9:00 – 20:00 (October to May 10:00 – 20:00). Most of them are open until 23:30. After the closing time, many petrol stations have automats which accept credit cards and 1000 ISK bank notes.
In the rest of the country, the schedule can vary depending on the zone. Most petrol stations are open until 22:00 or even 23:30 and have automats.
At present, the only toll of Iceland is the 1,000 ISK toll (approx 6 €) to use the Hvalfjudor Tunnel.
In the largest cities of Iceland you will find 2 hour metered parking. It is easy to find a parking space in Reykjavík as there are many car parks.
It is important to take precautions and be aware of some basic guidelines:
Bring a map
Check the weather forecast in advance
Bring enough food and water on your vehicle
Bring warm clothing and blanket / sleeping bag for emergencies
Bring a mobile phone and emergency numbers.
Bring a first aid kit
Always bring sunglasses into the car because the sub-Arctic sun is usually low to the horizon.
Icelandic traffic signs
This useful app allows you to check traffic signs in Iceland. It works off-line. Available in English.