What Side of the Road Do People Drive On in Iceland?

An abundance of volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, and geysers makes the Icelandic landscape one of the most sublime of any nation.

But most of these sights are spread out and far from the capital Reykjavik, where most international visitors arrive.

So self-driving is an excellent way for guests to get out and about and catch the best of epic Iceland.

People in Iceland drive on the right side of the road. There are also a few rules specific to Iceland that visitors should brush up on before driving in the country.

Those coming from Europe can bring their vehicles across via ferry service. Alternatively, visitors have many rental options.  

This article highlights critical aspects of driving in Iceland that outsiders may not be familiar with, outlines a few tips for renting a car in Iceland, and explains why driving is a great way to see the country. 

Also, see How Long Does It Take To Drive Around Iceland? to learn more.

Driving in Iceland: What Side To Drive On and How To Pass

Icelanders didn’t always drive on the right. Authorities only introduced the rule in 1968. [1]

Like people in most countries that drive on the right, Icelanders also overtake from the left, and Icelandic vehicles usually have their steering wheels on the left.

Visitors from other right-hand driving countries will not need to make a significant adjustment to drive in Iceland. This list includes:

  • Most of Europe
  • The Americas
  • Russia
  • China
  • Many West Asian nations [2]

On the other hand, some international visitors will need to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the road they usually occupy. [3] These areas include:

  • UK
  • Japan
  • Australia
  • South Asian countries 
  • South African countries

Fortunately, roads in Iceland are good, and traffic is relatively sparse, especially outside the cities. Icelanders are also largely safe, rule-abiding drivers.

However, there are several additional rules that drivers unfamiliar with local regulations and conditions should keep in mind before venturing out on Icelandic roads.

Other Driving Rules To Keep in Mind 

Many rules that apply to driving in Iceland may or may not be applicable in other countries, so it’s worth reiterating them here.

  • Drivers and every passenger in a vehicle must wear a seat belt 
  • Children too small for seat belts must occupy child safety seats
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal, and fines are steep
  • Using mobile phones while driving is prohibited [4]

Driving Rules Unique to Iceland 

Some rules are unique to Iceland. 

  • Drivers must keep headlights on at all times of day or night when driving
  • Driving off-road is illegal, and those found driving off-road may even face prison terms
  • On two-lane roundabouts (there are quite a few in Reykjavik), traffic on the inner lane has the right of way

Speed Limits in Iceland 

In cities, the speed limit is 18.5 to 31 mph (30-50 km/h). On gravel roads outside cities, it is 50 mph (80 km/h), and on paved rural roads 56mph (90 km/h).

Speeding is one of the most common causes of accidents, so driving well below the limit is recommended, especially when getting used to the rules.

Those unfamiliar with driving in highlands and visitors in winter will want to be especially careful of driving at safe speeds. 

Iceland Road Safety Tips

Besides speeding, here are the most typical issues drivers face on Icelandic roads:

  • Tire damage: Roads in rural areas may be gravel and often contain potholes. Drivers should inspect their tires and drive carefully on rough roads. This requirement is essential with rental vehicles, as most insurance policies do not cover flat tires. [5] 
  • Damage from skidding on ice: Winters are particularly treacherous, but highland passes can freeze over even in summer. In these cases, renting a four-wheel drive vehicle is crucial.
  • Wind and snow-related damage: Weather conditions in Iceland can be challenging at times. It is best to pay attention to weather forecasts and sit out the worst weather. In a powerful snowstorm, poor visibility can increase collision risks, and wind damage can wreck even stationary cars.
  • Damage from hitting animals: Iceland has thousands of sheep, and one can easily stray into the path of a speeding vehicle. Most insurance policies do not cover animal damage, so drivers need to take extra care to avoid hitting them to avoid a penalty.

It is an excellent idea for visitors to download the Search and Rescue Association of Iceland app.

The app allows rescue workers to locate drivers using the GPS on their mobile phones in an emergency. [6]

Information and Tips on Renting a Car in Iceland

To drive in Iceland, visitors need a valid driving license. Licenses issued by EEA countries, the UK, and Japan are suitable for the duration indicated in the document.

All other permits are valid for six months from the date of arrival in Iceland. [7]

Even after expiration, a license is valid for one month. Therefore, authorities accept any internationally valid driving license in Iceland for seven months.

The minimum age for renting a car is 20 years. For a four-wheel drive, minibus, or camper van, it is 23 years.

Most vehicles in Iceland are manual, so visitors who are particular about wanting automatic cars should specifically request them.

Most insurance policies do not cover damage to vehicle undercarriages, so consider getting additional protection for gravel damage.

This potential risk can be especially concerning when heading out to highland roads.

Finally, remember to inspect a rental vehicle when you take possession of it, and take pictures of even the most minor scratches to protect yourself from damage claims in the future.

Why Self-Driving Is a Great Way To See the Country

Iceland has many spectacular natural landscapes. While they may seem far apart, the island nation is reasonably small—just over 40,000 square miles (103,600 square kilometers).

Route 1, also known as the Ring Road, an 832-mile (1,339 kilometers) long single-lane highway that skirts around the coast, is a great way to see as much of the beautiful Icelandic landscape in as short a time as possible.

It takes in many of the most iconic Icelandic destinations, including:

  • The Jokulsarlon Glacier
  • Lake Myvatn and the
  • Vatnajokull Glacier 

Many visitors find renting a vehicle and driving along the Ring Road offers the best opportunity to make the most of the visit. 

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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