Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past five years, you’ve probably heard it a billion times: Winter is coming. Well, in Iceland, winter has already come, there’s no doubt about it. And for the most part, it’s beautiful! However, while winter’s frosty glow certainly renders the local landscapes even more gorgeous and mesmerising, it also—and more importantly—makes the roads you must drive to view those landscapes more dangerous and slippery.
Indeed, driving in Iceland during winter can be a very dangerous prospect, quite unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Now, we want you to be safe, because we love you, so in that spirit, here are some tips and precautions that should be useful to anyone planning to drive around the country during these cold and gloomy months.
-Ensure that your vehicle is well equipped with winter tires. If you’re planning on leaving the greater Reykjavík area, studded tires are a must.
-Respect the law, for your own safety, for instance by ensuring that every passenger in your vehicle has fastened their seatbelt and is strapped in tightly.
-The speed limit within city or town limits is usually 50km/h. It is 30km/h in residential areas. Paved highways are generally 90 km/h unless otherwise indicated, while the speed limit for gravel roads is 80km/h. Always respect the speed limit—it’s there for a reason—but remember that they are set with optimal conditions in mind, so do adjust your velocity appropriately when driving through snowdrifts or on an icy road, for instance.
-Make sure your vehicle is at all times equipped with a shovel and a hefty rope. For longer ventures, bring along warm clothes, water and a charged-up cell phone. Jumper cables couldn’t hurt, either.
-Pay close attention to the road. We know the landscape is probably the most beautiful thing you’ll ever see, but it is also one of the trickiest. You don’t want to gamble here.
-Remember to always keep your headlights on, whatever conditions you are driving in, as is mandated by law.
-Always be doubly careful when approaching blind hills, on gravel roads, and before crossing single lane bridges (we do have a lot of these).
-Sheep and horses can cross the road at any moment, even during winter (although that’s admittedly kind of rare). Be vigilant!
-Don’t go stomping on that gas pedal, you will get to your destination by being as careful as possible—and there’s no hurry, is there?
-Follow the signs. Show common sense. Think a little. Understand that even main roads can close up for extended periods of time during winter, and that in Iceland, you cannot reasonably expect to travel anywhere by car.
-Constantly updated information road and weather conditions can be found on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s helpful website: www.vegagerdin.is. Be sure to always check in there before embarking on a trip.
-Further information about weather and potential alerts can be found at safetravel.is.
-Access up-to-date information on road conditions in English by calling 1778.
-In case of an emergency, call 112 (the Icelandic equivalent of 911).