You may have read about or heard people talking about their 'Off-road driving' experience in Iceland. Well, they may either be exaggerating, confused, or due a very big fine from the Icelandic government. This is because off-road driving is highly illegal here in Iceland and if you are caught partaking in the activity then you will be heavily fined. The fine has now risen to 100,000 ISK per person after an increase in incidents in the previous 2 years.
In 2018, there was an unfortunate incident involving a group of French tourists. They had been led to believe that driving off-road was allowed here in Iceland, this led to them causing major damage and becoming stuck. They claimed that they didn't know about the rules and thought it was common knowledge that driving off-road was allowed. However, locals were outraged and pointed to the fact there was a sign within close-proximity which clearly stated that driving off-road was forbidden. Below is a photo of the damage that was caused, as you can see the moss was completely ruined.
According to Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir, Professor of Ecology at the University of Iceland, there are over 606 different species of moss in Iceland. Moss can help to prevent soil erosion, retain water and humidity, but most importantly, they're a key piece of Iceland's beauty and history.
The Icelandic land is very precious, especially the moss. It takes hundreds of years for the moss to grow and is, therefore, protected under law. Damaging the moss will severely anger the Icelandic people and some tourists have been unfortunate enough to face criticism from Icelanders after being led to believe that off-road driving was allowed, therefore, causing severe damage to the moss.
Another reason 'off-road driving' may be bought up in conversation on forums, may be due to the people confusing it with 'F-roads'. I completely understand why such confusion may occur due to their similarities, however, there is definitely a big difference!
F-roads are mountain roads which can only be accessed by 4x4s and are only open for a limited period of time. This being the summer period, from the month of July to September. The reason people may confuse off-road driving with F-roads is due to their similarities in appearance. A lot of the F-roads are not paved and contain a lot of rough rocks and gravel and have a very rural setting. In fact, some of the F-roads may even have rivers that you will need to cross.
A lot of people refer to the F-roads as off-road driving, and this further adds to the confusion. When looking on a map or even google maps, you will see regular roads are marked as numbers I.e. '413'. The F-roads will be marked with an 'F', for example, 'F413'. Most of them are very clearly labeled in person too, however, some may not be! So, always be careful and make sure you are traveling the correct route. Here is a great website for you to read information regarding F-road conditions, opening dates and also a map of all F-roads over the island.