Driving in Iceland gives you immense freedom and can be great fun. However, it’s crucial that you understand some of the basic Icelandic driving rules in Iceland in order to keep you safe and cause as little disruption to the traffic as possible.
To make your life easier, we’ve put together a summary of everything you need to know when it comes to Icelandic traffic laws.
For our 2020 Definitive Guide to Renting a Car in Iceland click here.
Rules and Regulations
Some of the basic rules for Iceland include:
- Traffic drives on the right side of the road.
- Wearing a seatbelt at all times is mandatory.
- The use of a handheld phone whilst driving is extremely dangerous and forbidden.
Right of Way
Traffic coming from the right always has the right of way, unless a sign, traffic warden, or lights state otherwise. The following signs also indicate the right of way:
|Traffic on roads that are shown the "Yellow Diamond" sign has the right of way.|
|Always give way to indicating buses leaving a bus stop.|
|This sign means there is a one-way tunnel system ahead. While driving inside the tunnel you need to pull over to dedicated parking zones on your right-hand side whenever you see traffic coming from the other side. Basically, when encountering another car, whoever has the parking space on their right needs to use it to let the other pass.|
|Emergency services with flashing lights always have right of way. If you see an emergency vehicle approaching from behind, indicate to the side of the road if possible and allow them to pass.|
|Pedestrians crossing a zebra crossing, that has no lights, always have the right of way.|
Keeping to the right speed limit is very important as spontaneous dangers can present themselves on Iceland roads. Speeding cameras are dotted around the country and speeding fines can range between ISK 5,000–70,000 (USD 45 to USD 575). Also, please remember that the speed limit is only an indicator of the maximum speed and so if road conditions change (i.e. heavy blizzard) then it’s your responsibility to adjust your speed accordingly.
The general speed limits are:
- 90 km/h (56 mph) in the countryside
- 80 km/h (50 mph) on gravel roads
- 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas
- 30 km/h (19 mph) in residential streets
The above are only general speed limits, some areas may have different conditions so always make sure to check what the signs indicate.
Other speeding limits that are important to note:
- Vehicles pulling a trailer (i.e. caravan) are allowed to drive no faster than 80 km/h (50 mph).
- Vehicles pulling a trailer that is over 750kg (1,650 lb) and without brakes are not allowed to drive any faster than 60km/h (37 mph).
If you rent a car in Iceland then you won’t have to worry about tires, as your rental company should have you covered with what you need. The requirement for tires isn’t about whether they are winter or summer tires, instead, it’s about the depth of the tires. Please check the following requirements:
- Between November 1st - April 14th: Studded tires are allowed but not compulsory. The minimum depth of tires needs to be 3mm.
- Between April 15th - October 31st: Studded tires are prohibited and the minimum depth of tires needs to be 1.6mm. Studded tires are not allowed during this period.
Sheep in Iceland
One of the things that you need to be extremely careful with is Iceland's population of over 800,000 wandering sheep. They can be found all along the ring road and they often wander, carelessly, onto the road, right in front of oncoming traffic.
Be especially aware at night, as to the sheep, your car is just a wandering flicker of light and the road is just part of their terrain. Keep your eyes peel at all times.
Damage due to collision with sheep is also not covered by your rental car insurance so this can get extremely expensive.
In the event of an accident every person (tourists included) are obliged by law to help and assist at the site of an accident - even if you are not directly involved.
- If you are in an accident or are on-site of an accident and individuals or animals are injured, call the emergency service (dial 112) as soon as possible.
- If you are in an accident or are on-site of an accident and individuals or animals are not injured, then the emergency service should not be called. Instead, any drivers involved should resolve the situation themselves and share any contact and insurance information required.
Important phone numbers:
- Emergency services (police, fire, and ambulance) Tel: 112
- Police Station Tel: 444-1000
- E.R Emergency Room Landspítali Hospital Tel: 543-2000
- Dental assistance Tel: 575-0505
- Sjálfsbjörg (self-help) association for people with disabilities Tel: 550-0300
- Search and Rescue Tel: 570-5900
Some tourists get especially confused about roundabouts in Iceland. There are a few roundabouts found around the country, many of them are when entering Reykjavik or other larger towns, like Akureyri.
When you approach a roundabout, make sure you already know which exit you will be taking. You do not indicate when you enter the roundabout, instead, you need to indicate when you are leaving it.
Use the inside line if you plan to exit on the second, third, or fourth exist. Use the outside lane if you are exiting the roundabout on the first exit only. Remember that the inside lane always has the right of way.
If for some reason you’ve entered the roundabout on the outside lane, but realize you don’t need to exit immediately, then use your indicator to signal towards the inside lane - but do not switch lanes! Follow the roundabout on the outside line whilst indicating towards the inside lane until you’ve reached your exit, at this point indicate towards your exit.
Don’t worry, it might sound more stressful than it really is. Also, there are no roundabouts in the whole of Iceland with more than two lanes.
You can find several tunnels throughout Iceland. They are on average 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long with the longest stretching over 9 kilometers (5.5 miles). Tunnels in Iceland are safe and the speed limit is sometimes lowered before driving through it. The biggest challenge with tunnels is quickly adapting to the darkness when entering the tunnel and with the brightness when leaving. If you’re wearing sunglasses then remove these before entering the tunnel.
Please note that there have been some recent changes to the payable tolls for tunnels. For many years Hvalfjörður Tunnel was subject to a fee, however, as of 2018, this tunnel is now toll-free. As of 2019, drivers passing through Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel in North Iceland will need to pay a toll of between ISK 700 to 6,000 depending on the vehicle. The standard toll for normal passenger vehicles is ISK 1,500, (approx. USD 12.30) whereas larger transport vehicles and trucks are subject to an ISK 6,000 toll fee.
Around the country, you will find many one-lane bridges. These are bridges where only one car will fit at a time. Whichever car first arrives at a one-lane bridge has the right of way to cross. Subsequent cars should cross the bridge in a similar order as they arrived. One-lane bridges are indicated with a bright orange sign and a label of a car with a narrow bridge.
Other Important Rules and Regulations
- Headlights are a legal requirement at all times - day or night. Your car lights should always be on dipped headlights, in order not to blind any oncoming drivers.
- Do not drink and drive! Iceland has strict drunk driving laws with the alcohol limit reduced from 0.05% to 0.02% in 2018. That means even half a pint or a small glass of wine will get you over the limit - so just do not drink and drive. The fine in Iceland is a minimum of ISK 100,000 and penalties can even include time in prison.
- Off-roading in Iceland is strictly forbidden. If there is no marked road or track then you are not allowed to drive there. Fines for off-road driving are significant, a group of four French tourists was given an ISK 400,000 fine for off-road driving. Not only is it illegal, however, it’s also extremely damaging to the local environment that’s already fragile - so just don’t do it!
- Never stop on a highway, no matter how beautiful the landscape is. If you’d like to stop then find a designated parking area, a picnic area or a pull-out road (which is often marked with a blue sign and a white “M”). Stopping on a highway or other high-speed roads is extremely dangerous and illegal.