Three Deaths in Swimming Pools in Three Months

A woman in her late forties died in Lágafellslaug swimming pool in the town of Mosfellsbær yesterday, RÚV reports. It was the second death in a capital area pool within one week: a woman in her 80s died in Kópavogslaug swimming pool last Friday. In addition to these two cases, a man was found dead in a hot tub in Breiðholtslaug in Reykjavík last December. A swimming safety expert says it should not be possible for deaths like these to occur in capital area swimming pools.

Paramedics were called to Lágafellslaug pool in the capital area municipality of Mosfellsbær yesterday when a woman was found unconscious. The woman was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Detective Superintendent Margeir Sveinsson says the case is under investigation, as other cases of deaths that occur in swimming pools.

Police continue to investigate the death that occurred in Breiðholtslaug pool last December. The victim was in his 70s and physically disabled, and he had likely been unconscious for around three minutes before he was discovered by another patron. Hafþór B. Guðmundsson, a former lecturer in sports science at the University of Iceland and an expert in swimming safety, was interviewed by RÚV last December following the death in Breiðholtslaug. He called for action on safety issues in Icelandic swimming pools.

Landowners Announce Hiking Ban on Popular Mt. Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Landowners of Mt. Kirkjufell have announced a winter hiking ban, RÚV reports. The aim of the ban, which takes effect today, is to ensure the safety of travellers and first responders; three deaths have occurred on the mountain over the past four years.

Ill prepared and oblivious to danger

On Saturday, November 5, landowners of the property on which Mt. Kirkjufell is situated met with the mayor and planning officer of Grundarfjörður alongside representatives from first responders and the Icelandic Tourist Board. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a response to the sharp rise in travellers and the numerous serious accidents that have been suffered during hikes up the mountain (including three deaths over the past four years).

This morning, the landowners sent a press release to various media outlets announcing that all hiking on the mountain would be banned, starting today, November 8. The press release noted, however, that hikers would be allowed to hike up the mountain in June of next year when nesting season had concluded. Signs will be installed on hiking paths and in the parking lot near Kirkjufellsfoss to relay this information.

Arrowhead Mountain attracts visitors

As noted in an article in RÚV, Mt. Kirkjufell became one of Iceland’s most popular attractions after appearing in the TV series Game of Thrones (as Arrowhead Mountain). Since then, a growing number accidents and deaths “necessitate increased safety measures,” according to property owners. Vegetation on the mountain has also suffered due to the number of hikers, which imposes a further threat to safety.

According to the press release, the property owners have noticed that many foreign travellers seem oblivious to the dangers of hiking up the mountain: “they hike up without the proper gear and in dangerous conditions.” Most of the accidents occur during fall or winter when conditions are the most difficult, which in turn endangers the safety of response parties, dispatched in the event of accidents.

The landowners concluded their statement by entreating everyone in the tourist and information business to remind travellers not to hike up Mt. Kirkjufell during winter. “These measures are taken with everyone’s safety in mind.”

Coast Guard Helicopter Unmanned Due to Pilot Shortage

TF-GRÓ Icelandic Coast Guard Helicopter

For one third of the year, the Icelandic Coast Guard has only one helicopter crew on duty, RÚV reports. Yesterday morning the helicopter could not be manned to respond to a serious accident due to staff illness. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says the situation is unacceptable and wants to increase the number of helicopter pilots.

One or two crews on duty

A serious traffic accident occurred under the Eyjafjöll mountain range in South Iceland just after 11:00 AM yesterday morning. One person was in the car and they were transported to the National University Hospital in Reykjavík for treatment. Since it was not possible to man the helicopter crew, the injured person had to be transported by ambulance – making the trip one and a half hours longer than it would have been by helicopter.

Ásgeir Erlendsson, communications officer of the Icelandic Coast Guard, says that for two thirds of the year, the Coast Guard has two crews on call, but for one third of the year, there is just a single crew on duty. In the past, illness or other staffing challenges have been solved by calling in staff who were off duty. That was, however, not possible yesterday.

Plans to hire more pilots

The situation that occurred yesterday morning is not acceptable, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson told reporters. “Such incidents should not occur and we will try to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again,” he stated. Jón pointed out that the government budget outlines an increase in funding to the Coast Guard so that the number of shifts can be increased from six to seven. The government updated the helicopter fleet last year and the number of crews was increased from five to six. “It is no secret that with more crews it would be possible to increase the response capacity even further,” Ásgeir stated.

Unrelated to wage dispute

The Coast Guard’s pilots have been without a valid collective agreement for almost two and a half years. The pilots assert that complying with the Ministry of Finance’s requirements would impact aviation safety. The Ministry has denied those claims. The manning of the helicopter crew yesterday is unrelated to the wage dispute.

Rise in Scooter Accidents With Increased Scooter Traffic

A person riding an electric scooter by the Reykjavík city centre pond.

From June to August this year, electric scooter accident rates have increased compared to the same period last year. Still, the increase is relatively smaller than the increase in scooter traffic, according to a National Hospital’s emergency ward report. The increase in accidents mainly consists of adults. The high accident rates on Friday and Saturday nights suggest that more education is needed on the dangers of riding scooters under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Senior Physician at the National University Hospital’s emergency ward Hjalti Már Björnsson has issued data on scooter accidents. This summer, June, July, and August, 245 individuals sought visited the emergency ward with injuries from scooter accidents. During the same period last year, 149 scooter accidents resulted in an emergency ward visit, so the average incident rate increased from 1.6 to 2.7 per day.

Seventy-two children were injured compared to 68 last year, while the number of adults (18 years or older) rose from 81 to 173. Most of the accidents resulted in minor injuries, but four individuals were acutely admitted to the hospital. “In the majority of cases, it’s minor cuts, scrapes or sprains. We’ve had a few broken bones and some facial injuries,” Hjalti Már told Vísir.

The report notes that the increase in accidents is minor, considering the increase in scooter traffic. According to city officials and scooter rental companies, registered trips with rental scooters were just under 700,000 in the city centre during the summer of 2021. In addition, the country imported about 20,000 electric scooters over the last few years for private use. It can be assumed that about a million electric scooter trips were taken this summer. “So it seems that the number of accidents isn’t great considering the number of trips and the increase in accidents is likely relatively smaller than the increase in scooter travel,” the emergency ward report stated.

While the increase in accidents is relatively small, the data indicates more accidents over the weekends. There’s an average of 2.2 accidents per day during weekdays, but during the weekend, that rate shoots up to 3.7. Half of the accidents over the weekends occur during the night, from 11 pm to 5 am. Last year, 40% of adults who were injured on electric scooters had consumed alcohol. No such data was collected this year, but the increase in accidents on weekend nights gives cause to assume that alcohol or other substance consumption is a factor.

The report points out that electric scooters are a cheap and environmentally friendly mode of transport and that capital area infrastructure needs to be strengthened to ensure passenger safety. It also urges a campaign to educate people that alcohol and electric scooters aren’t a good mix. Finally, they suggest that improved public transport during weekends might lead to a decrease in accidents.

The public is encouraged to keep a few things in mind when using the electric scooters:

  • Riding an electric scooter takes practice, just like riding a bike. Caution is advised when getting used to this mode of transport.
  • There should never be more than one passenger on a scooter.
  • Slow down when making a turn or crossing uneven surfaces.
  • Under no circumstances should you use an electric scooter under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Heedless Tourists Call for More Rest Stops on Ring Road

Route 1

Roads in Iceland must be made safer, says the Director of the Public Roads Administration in an interview with RÚV. Owing to a lack of lay-bys (or rest stops), there are over 100 places along the Ring Road where tourists habitually pull their vehicles over, which increases the risk of accidents. Increased funding is needed.

Heedless Motorists

Tourists have had a significant impact on the Ring Road (or Route 1, a 1,332km road that loops around the island). Many have reported seeing them walking along the road, parking their vehicles on the shoulder, or simply stopping their cars in the middle of the road. In a meeting held Wednesday, January 29, the Public Roads Administration discussed the prospect of additional lay-bys.

“We’re worried about tourists on the Ring Road. There’s an increased risk of accidents. That’s why we’re interested in determining how many lay-bys to introduce and where. It’s a matter of hospitality, in some sense: offering suitable, safe places from where travellers can take in the landscape and take pictures,” Bergþóra Þorkelsdóttir, Director of the Public Roads Administration stated in an interview with RÚV.

102 Spots

“I drove the Ring Road recently and took note of 102 such places. They are, actually, more numerous, as many of these places occur along long stretches of the road that afford the same view. With a suitable lay-by and adequate signage, we could nudge these motorists toward safe places where they could take photographs,” Sóley Jónasdóttir, a project manager at the Public Roads Administration’s Design Department stated.

According to Sóley, the need for increased safety is most urgent in South Iceland, in Eldhraun, and near Mývatn, among other places. Tourists pulling over to the side of the road increase the risk of accidents, while also damaging the road itself.

“Shoulders flatten out, verges and surface dressings crack, and the road begins disintegrating. There are always going to be novel challenges, as well. Like in Brekkukot, by the roots of the Eyjafjöll mountain range, where it’s become customary to leave bras dangling on the fence. We’re talking a long stretch of road where traffic slows considerably; people slow down, stop, and try to take pictures,” Sóley said.

Winter Conditions

The weather and road conditions during winter, also play a significant role. There have been six traffic accidents on the Ring Road in January.

“Traffic has increased by 50% since 2013, much of it owing to tourists. Clearly, the Public Roads Administration is using all available funds for road-safety measures. Much more needs to be done, of course, given that the road is being used in a completely different way than we initially imagined,” Bergþóra stated.

Asked what’s holding the Administration back, Bergþóra replied: “A lack of funding, first and foremost.”

Icy Accidents Call for Extra Emergency Staff

emergency department hospital

Nearly 30 people have sought emergency care this morning due to ice-related accidents. Around one third of the patients had landed in traffic accents while the rest had slipped and fallen on icy streets. The National Hospital’s emergency department has called in extra staff to avoid lengthening wait times due to the weather.

“This is the first slippery ice day this winter. There are broken bones and bruises and scrapes and cuts,” stated Jón Magnós Kristjánsson, head doctor of the National Hospital’s emergency department in an interview for mbl.is. He says the department’s load is otherwise normal, with no flu outbreak or other seasonal issue.

Jón encouraged individuals to seek assistance at local health clinics for minor injuries in order to avoid long wait times.

No Fatal Traffic Accidents in Iceland This Year

There have been no fatal traffic accidents in Iceland so far this year, Vísir reports. It has been nearly 80 years since the country has reported no fatal traffic accidents this late in the year. An expert says better driver education and higher rates of seatbelt use are among the factors working together to reduce accident mortality in the country.

Over the last decade, the lowest number of traffic-related deaths occurred in 2014 (a total of four) and the highest were 18 deaths in 2016 and 2018. Almost four months into 2019, and no fatal traffic accidents have been reported in the country whatsoever, a remarkable occurence that has not taken place since 1940.

Ágúst Mogensen, an accident prevention specialist, says many factors have led to this positive outcome. A government road safety plan has made efforts to reduce drivers’ mobile phone use, improve driver education, and improve car safety. Ágúst also believes fine hikes have had a positive impact on driver safety. “The average speed has decreased on the roads and seatbelt use has increased.”

Northern Lights Driving Causes Danger

Travellers seeking northern lights can cause considerable danger on roads, according to Aftenposten. Icelandic police authorities have warned travellers of the danger. Travellers come from all over the world to witness the northern lights in wintertime Iceland.

Northern Lights tourism comes with its fair share of traffic problems. According to the Icelandic police, many travellers lack experience driving in winter conditions. “The weather in Iceland changes every five minutes and road conditions alike,” said Jóhannes Sigfússon, police inspector at Akureyri. “A dry road can become icy and slippery in a matter of minutes.”

Nighttime is the most dangerous, as tired drivers not used to the conditions look upwards in search of the northern lights. Eighteen people lost their lives in traffic accidents last year, and half of those were of foreign origin.

Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten’s coverage states that travellers often seek dangerous mountain roads and that many a northern lights trip ends in disaster. It also states that travellers often drive in the middle of the two-lane ring road when seeking out the northern lights. The road may twist and turn at a moment’s notice, and a driver that’s not fully alert might end up crashing.

Travellers are advised to use www.road.is for information about road conditions and weather. It is the official road information website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration.