Guide to Driving In Iceland - Drive Safe in Iceland

Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Iceland?

Driving in Iceland

Driving is on the right with overtaking on the left. Iceland has more than 8,000 miles of roads but less than 3,000 miles of them being paved. Therefore when you go into the interior of the country you should prepare yourself for a bumpy ride and plan which kind of vehicle you are going to rent accordingly. At certain times of year the roads in Iceland become impassable and you may want to avoid them completely, or rent a four wheel drive car.

Landmannalaugar is one of those places of natural beauty where having an off road vehicle is recommended, though these get snapped up quickly and should be rented well in advance. Always take advice from locals who know the roads and take particular care when crossing fords. Having a weather report is vital as conditions can deteriorate quickly and you should plan your petrol and rest stops into your trip. It is forbidden to drive off road and on certain marked tracks. You must always give right of way to domestic animals and always take care when passing horses. Pay attention to the signs in Iceland as paved roads often become gravel roads and you need to change your speed accordingly, especially when this happens on steep and windy roads where one wrong turn could send you off a cliff. High wind speeds are also responsible for many of the accidents in Iceland.

The opening hours of gas stations in Iceland vary but most are open 12 hours per day from 8am to 8pm with some closing at 10pm and even 11pm. If you have a credit card you can usually buy petrol 24 hours a day from the machines.

Driving Laws

Seat Belt Laws

All passengers must wear seatbelts at all times whilst the car is moving. You'll receive a ticket and a fine if caught not following the law.

Drinking and Driving

The drinking limit is 0.05% and the penalties are severe with a fine of ISK 160,000 or 800 Euros, withdrawal of your licence and a possible jail sentence. The allowable alcohol limit is less than that of the UK and so one drink may take you over the limit - it's best not to drink at all if you are going to be driving.

Must Have Documents

You need to have your driving licence including both parts, your passport, some proof of insurance (including third party fire and liability insurance) and your vehicle registration information. Whilst some of these are not legally required, it often saves a lot of problems if you have them with you.

Speed Limits

  • 50 kilometres per hour in built up areas.
  • 80 kilometres per hour on open roads which are gravelled.
  • 90 kilometres per hour on highways that are asphalted.
If you are caught exceeding the speed limit, the fines are very high.

Minimum Driving Age

To drive in Iceland you should be 17 years of age though most rental companies require you to be over 21 years of age with a minimum of one year's driving experience. This can go up to 25 years of age if you are wanting to hire an off road vehicle. If you are a young driver you may have to pay a premium on top of the daily rental rate.

Safety Camera Warning Devices

Radar trap detectors are legal in Iceland but devices which allow them to be jammed are not. The radar detection function on a sat-nav is also legal in Iceland.

On the Spot Fines

On the spot fines are regularly levied in Iceland for minor traffic infringements. Where the fine is very large, a deposit may be taken and you'll be given instructions on how and where to pay the balance. 

Child Safety Rules

Children under 1.5m can travel in the front or rear of a vehicle as long as they have the appropriate restraint system and the air bag is switched off for their part of the car. Children under three must be in a child car seat, between 3 years old and 1.5m tall, they need only an appropriate booster seat and seatbelt.

Insurance

A minimum of third party fire and theft is required and you must be able to prove you have it by carrying the certificate or a green card.

Rules of the Road

Standard European Road Regulations apply with a few additions...

Dipped headlights must be used during the day
You must carry a warning triangle and use it in conjunction with hazard lights if there's an emergency.
Winter tyres, which can be studded, spiked or with chains, must be used in winter during the period specified locally by the authorities, usually November to April.
It's useful to carry a spare bulb set and a fire extinguisher.
You mustn't drive off road or down certain tracks for fear of damaging the environment. You will be fined for doing so.

Towing Regulations

There are no specific regulations for towing in Iceland. You should simply use common sense and ensure that other drivers know what you are doing.

Speed Cameras

Speed cameras, both fixed and mobile are prevalent in Iceland and there is no leeway allowed for speeds above the limit. The fines are severe and it's recommended that you drive well within the limits to be on the safe side.

Using Mobile Phones when driving

The use of mobile phones without a hands free kit is illegal in Iceland. As with many offences in Iceland, the fine is high.

Parking

Parking regulations

In Reykjavik the parking is metered with the usual time limits being two hours. Finding a parking space in Reykjavik is not difficult and there are numerous multi storey car parks which can be used.You'll find some roadside parking away from the centre without charges but make sure you're not causing an obstruction.

Paid parking
 
Paid parking usually requires coins in Iceland and there are very few that will take cards or that can be charged to mobile phones. In Reykjavik you'll find meters and ticket machines as well as plenty of covered parking garages. 
 
Enforcement
 
Enforcement of parking is done by the police and you're likely to be ticketed if outstaying your time. Cars which cause an obstruction can be towed. Fines are relatively high compared to the rest of Europe. 
 
Disabled parking
 
In Iceland, the disabled blue badge scheme is generally recognised but the benefits it gives vary from parking lot to parking lot. You will find it better to approach an attendant in a covered parking lot and, showing him your badge, ask for help which is usually forthcoming.

Motor Way Signs

There is one main highway in Iceland which goes from Reykjavik all the way along the coast. It is called the Route 1 Ring Road and you can't miss it.
Confusing Road Sign in Iceland

Phrases

  • Motor oil - motor olia
  • Entrance - inngangur
  • Detour - krokaleid blylaust bensin
  • Diesel - disilolia
  • Hospital - spitali
  • Police - logregla
  • Police Station - logreglustod
  • Parking - bilastaedi
  • Highway – hradbraut
  • Road goes from being paved to Gravel - malbik endar (change your speed down accordingly)
  • Unleaded petrol - blylaust bensin
  • Gas station - bensinstod
  • Exit – otgangur
  • One lane bridge – einbreio bru (you should give way to cars already on the bridge)

Traffic Lights

There aren't many traffic lights in Iceland and the ones that are encountered follow the Vienna Convention on road signs and signals meaning they'll be easy to understand. Turning on a red signal is illegal unless an arrow indicates otherwise.

Toll Roads

Toll roads are known as 'toll vegur' in Icelandic but in reality there are no toll roads as such. The only toll payable in Iceland is at the Hvalfjudor Tunnel which costs ISK 1,000 to pass through.

Emergency

The emergency services number is 112, but if it is not urgent you can call the Reykjavik police on 4141000. In Reykjavik you can also call for a doctor or ambulance on 1770.

The Embassy of the United States of America in Iceland is at Laufasvegur 21, Reykjavik, 09728. They can be contacted by phone on 354-562-9100 or by fax on 354-562-9139.

What to do in an emergency

Unless the accident is causing an obstruction or a danger to others, you should not move any of the vehicles. Photograph the scene and take details of any witnesses whilst waiting for the police to arrive. You can get them on the emergency number 112. Once they have arrived, you'll need a copy of their report for your insurance company or for the hire car company. 

Fuel Costs

The price of Unleaded 95 Octane as at 01 May 2014 is £1.31 a litre with diesel slightly cheaper.

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Hiring a Car

With our Drive Smart guide you're fully prepared to hire a car in Iceland and stay safe on unfamiliar roads.
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