Authorities Look to Raise Fines for Off-Road Driving

The best weapon in the fight against off-road driving is education, according to Minister for the Environment, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson. He says more people are conscious of the damage caused by off-road driving and wants to look into raising fines.
Evidence of off-road driving can take a long time to disappear naturally. Nature lovers have resorted to fixing damage where they can but if the vegetation is damaged, that can be impossible to fix. Off-road driving is a growing problem in Iceland, as travellers disregard laws. Recently, a Russian social media influencer bragged about his off-road driving. He was prosecuted, however, and had to pay a hefty fine.

This summer, damages have been discovered when mountain roads were opened again for the season. Recently, the Environment agency reported off-road driving in the geothermal area by Sogin in the Reykjanes nature reserve to the police but the tracks will be wiped out in the next few days.
Government agencies put a lot of work into stopping off-road driving, according to Guðmundur Ingi. “I believe education is our main weapon when it comes to off-road driving. But there are also rules and the nature conservation law states that off-road driving is subject to fines, and also that vehicles can be impounded and offenders can even face jail time.”

The police consider every individual case. The minimum fine for off-road driving is 350,000 ISK (€2,477, $2,781) and fines higher than that amount are often issued. “I believe that the basis of the rules is good. It may be that we should raise the fines, and that’s something which I’m very ready to inspect,” minister Guðmundur continued.

The task of educating drivers is mostly handled by rangers. 200 million ISK (€1.4m, $1.58m) were added to the budget for land protection this year, and an extra 300 million ISK (€2.11m, $2.37m) of funds will go towards the cause next year.

Authorities charged individuals for 40 instances of off-road driving in 2018. “Truth be told, the overall management of this matter has improved in the last 5 or 10 years. Both the police along with search and rescue squads, which have started to be more prevalent in the highlands. So rangers, search and rescue teams, and the police are collaborating well in this field. It’s an infinite task which we will just have to continue to fight,” Guðmundur said.

Head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions and what is considered off-road driving.

Car Rental Company Introduces Driving Safety Test for Tourists

A pilot program at a Reykjavík car rental is asking tourists to take an informational driving test before leaving with their vehicle. RÚV reports that the test is intended to prepare visitors for Icelandic road conditions and thereby increase safety for all drivers. Although the test is not mandatory, people involved with the pilot hope that it may be made so for all tourists renting cars in Iceland as early as this fall.

The driving test is being offered to tourists renting cars from a single Hertz location on Flugvallavegur road in Reykjavík. (Implementing the pilot at the Keflavík airport would have simply been too difficult given the number of tourists renting cars there.) Although it’s intended to be educational, the driving test is designed in such a way as to hopefully be fun for the takers. It’s composed of ten questions related to the biggest dangers that drivers may encounter when driving in Iceland. These are taken from a database of 73 possible questions and can be changed according to the season, when driving conditions change. The wrong answers to each question are notably absurd, making the right answer is more than obvious.

The test is the brainchild of Ingi Heiðar Bergþórsson, Hertz’s Director of Services and Human Resources, and is being administered in collaboration with the Sjóvá insurance company and ICE-SAR, under the aegis of the Safe Travel program. Ingi Heiðar said that although the pilot test isn’t mandatory, 80% of the tourists who rent from the Flugvallavegur location opt to take it and, in many cases, are thankful for the information it provides. He explained that information placards with much of the same information included on the driving test have been placed on the steering wheels in rental cars for years, but many tourists do not take the time to read these before driving. He took inspiration for the test from similar ones that are administered in New Zealand, where tourists are sometimes even offered discounts on their rental or insurance costs if they take an educational driving test before setting out.

Since the test began being administered in May, Ingi Heiðar says that damage to cars rented at the Flugvallvegur location has gone down, although it’s not possible to say if this is a direct result of the test.

Ingi Heiðar hopes that tests like the one he’s designed will be soon made mandatory as part of the regulations on car rentals in Iceland.

Number of Rental Cars Still Increasing, But Not as Fast

The number of registered rental cars on the road continues to increase in Iceland, although data from Statistics Iceland shows that this increase is slowing considerably and that rental figures still largely depend on the time of year.

Mbl.is reports that there were 21,544 rental cars registered in January 2019, as compared to 7,280 in January 2013. That’s an increase of 196%. However, while there was also an increase from January 2016, when there were 13,963 rental cars on the road, to 2017, when there were 17,350, this only represents a 24% increase.

There was only a 16% increase in rental cars on the road between January 2017 and January 2018. And between January 2018 and January 2019, the difference was smaller still: only 7%, in fact.

The data also reflects obvious fluctuations in car rentals depending on the season. The most rental cars are on the road in July, August, and September. The most rental cars so far—26,575—were on the road during August 2018. This is a 125% increase when compared with the pinnacle of car rental figures five years previous, namely 11,801 in August 2013.

 

Ripped Off by Car Rentals?

Q: I have rented a car in Iceland a few times, up to now without any complaints whatsoever. Surfing through a few forums I was astonished to read that a lot of tourist seem to have been ripped off by their rental company through claiming minimal dents or scratches as major damage with a huge fine/claim. And I do not mean sandstorm damage. Is there an increase of those instances or is it an example of “once in a while and exaggerated via Internet forums”?

Mechthild, Germany

A: I spoke to a representative at the Icelandic Automobile Association. He said there seems to have been an increase in instances where renters of cars have been charged for dents and scratches once they return the rental car. He explains it as a result of a policy change within the larger car rentals in Europe in general, where an emphasis has been placed on scrutinizing the car upon return in search of any possible dents. He believes that policy has simply made its way to Iceland.

When asked for good advice to give to car renters, he said it was vital to walk around the car with a representative of the car rental when you pick up the car. Make sure every dent and scratch you see is clearly marked in the rental agreement. Also, be aware that there are many gravel roads in Iceland, making small dents likelier to occur than in many other countries. Most importantly, don’t drive a vehicle across rivers if it isn’t well equipped for such driving.

If you run into a dispute with the car rental, the Icelandic Automobile Association advises European travelers to contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in your home country. They will then forward the complaint to the ECC in Iceland and work in coordination with them to resolve your issue.

Should a dispute arise between a consumer and a company, which is member of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF) then the dispute can be referred to the complaints board of the Consumers’ Association of Iceland and SAF. This option is not limited to Icelandic citizens alone, but available to consumers of any nationality.

VH