Gabrielle Motola

Author, publisher, photographer and colourist from the UK. Living in Iceland. 

5 minute read03 Dec 2016

6 Essential Tips for Driving in Iceland

Have you ever driven on a road which turns from tarmac to ice to gravel and then suddenly a snowdrift appears in zero visibility over the span of a few minutes? Until I came to Iceland and drove here last winter I never had before either. 

Iceland is unique which is a great reason to visit it but know that driving here requires more caution and skill than in places where the roads are straight, groomed, and the weather is less, well, arctic.

Driving through Icelandic landscapes is one of the most rewarding, uplifting experiences you can have. This is all thanks to the breathtaking views and the spectacular winding roads which carve gracefully through the martian meets wild west landscape. The ring road is more straightforward than the fjords but the landscapes are no less stunning. All of this can be yours and not cost you your savings or your life if you take a bit more time to be smart about where you drive when and know where to access information. Especially in the wintertime. 

Here in Iceland natives know not to question the power of weather, to respect it and make themselves aware of road conditions before they jump into a car to drive to Ísafjörður. There is a reason this sign was erected on the Hellsheiði mountain overpass. The picture, taken in March 2016, indicates road fatalities. That count for this year (2016) is currently up to 15.

Here are some easy steps to take to make sure the drive of your life is not your last. 

  1. Drive on studded tires when driving in winter. 
    Most rental cars should have them on automatically. If you´re not sure double check and request them.
  2. Always check for the road conditions on your route. 
    There are maps and web cameras indicating the condition of roads and importantly which ones are closed. Not all closed roads are gated.
  3. Check for weather conditions in the area you are and are going to. 
    Things can change quickly in Iceland. Most tourists get into trouble when the are not aware.
  4. Use caution when using a GPS. It may not give you the best route. 
    It may also distract you. Keep your eyes on the road especially if it is raining or snowing. One tourist drove into a river reading it wrong instead of watching the road. 
  5. There are single lane bridges in Iceland. 
    Only some of them have flashing yellow lights, so get to know the traffic sign for them. It looks like a car inside of hourglass brackets. In the event you see either the sign or the yellow light, or the road narrowing, it is always best to slow down and use caution, yielding to any oncoming traffic. There was a fatal head on collision on one of these bridges last year. 
  6. Think thrice about the type of vehicle insurance you take out. 
    Fully comprehensive and/or windscreen insurance can come in handy if you are driving on gravel F roads or on the South Coast. Dinged windscreens are common. This is as true in summer as wintertime depending on where you plan to drive to. 

Generally Icelanders are used to fending for themselves in a harsh environment and enjoy the freedom it affords. No one will tell you not to go near the edge of a cliff because it is dangerous. It is assumed to be dangerous. 

However the more tourists who come here and do not exercise good judgement the more manmade safety enforcement devices (aka freedom restrictions) are implemented. We all pay for that psychically. However some pay for it with their lives. Do your part to keep yourself safe and Iceland free.

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