“Shocking” Rise in Fatal Car Accidents

driving in reykjavík

In the mere 17 days that have passed in 2024 so far, five people have died in traffic accidents. This rate of fatal accident has not been seen since recording began some 50 years ago, Vísir reports.

Two died in an accident on Grindavíkurvegur, two near Skaftafell and one in Hvalfjörður. Þórhildur Elínardóttir, communications director of the Icelandic Transport Authority, told Vísir that the number of traffic deaths this year is “shocking” and that she hadn’t seen such trends in recent years. “This is among the worst we’ve seen,” said Þórhildur. “We hope this isn’t a taste of what’s to come.”

New traffic risks

Eight people died in traffic in Iceland last year in total and nine in 2022. The numbers had been similar in the years before. Five deaths in only 17 days is the deadliest start of the year, surpassing 1977, the worst year on record. 37 people died in traffic that year.

The Icelandic Transport Authority keeps track of accident statistics and spearheads prevention methods. Þórhildur said that authorities have set the goal of decreasing serious injuries and deaths in traffic by 5 percent year on year and for Iceland to be among the five European nations with the fewest traffic deaths per capita.

Þórhildur said that it’s important to spread awareness about road safety. “We need to face the various challenges that have come up through the years,” she said. “In the last ten years, they have included phone use while driving, increase in tourism, electric scooters, and more.”

Parking Fees Rise in Downtown Reykjavík

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses square

Higher parking fees took effect in central Reykjavík this month and have been criticised by some politicians and locals. The city has instituted paid parking on Sundays for the first time and extended the hours when parking is paid on other days.

In the P1 and P2 zones, parking will be paid until 9:00 PM throughout the week. It was previously free after 6:00 PM on weekdays and 4:00 PM on Saturdays. On Sundays, parking will be subject to fees between 10:00 AM and 9:00 PM.

Three-hour limit in P1 and P2

Guðbjörg Lilja Erlendsdóttir, Director of Transport at the City of Reykjavík, says this change was implemented to accommodate residents and shop owners in the city centre. “The aim of the fees is that as many people as possible can get parking when they need it. Therefore, in toll zone 1, where there are a lot of shops and services, we are also implementing a maximum time of three hours, and are extending the toll hours in zones 1 and 2. All this is done so that residents and visitors get more parking when they need it,” Guðbjörg told RÚV. It’s important to note that residents within paid parking zones can apply for residential cards, allowing them to park within applicable parking zones for free.

Fee increase to ISK 600 in P1

In the P1 zone, the cost of parking will also increase to ISK 600 [$4.31, €4.11] per hour, from the previous rate of ISK 430 [$2.95, €3.09] per hour. However, parking will now be free in zone P3 on Saturdays. A count revealed that parking spaces were better used on Sundays than Saturdays, so the change may help to better distribute weekend traffic in the city centre.

Independence Party politician Kjartan Magnússon criticised the steep price hike in the P1 zone, which amounts to some 40%. Guðbjörg says there has been relatively little response to the changes overall, however.

Urban Design Contest Envisions a Carbon-Neutral, Car-Free Future

The City of Reykjavík has launched an open design competition to “create a dense, mixed, diverse, and carbon-neutral new urban quarter” in Keldur, an underdeveloped area on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. Streetsblog reports that the contest, which will accept submissions until mid-April, is open to anyone—not just professional designers and urban planners—and will be judged anonymously by a team of local officials and international expert advisors.

The finalists from the first round of the competition will receive €50,000 [$53,582; ISK 7.7 million]. The final winner will receive an additional €50,000.

Where is Keldur?

Sandwiched between the neighbourhoods of Grafarvogur, Úlfarsárdalur, Grafarholt, Halsar, and Höfðar, the 288-acre parcel that, according to the Keldur Competition Brief, city officials are dividing into Keldur East and Keldur West, is a 30-minute bike ride away from downtown.

via Keldur Competition Brief

The area is currently served by four bus routes “with stops in the vicinity” but once the city unveils its new bus route and the first phase of the Borgarlína Rapid Transit (BRT) service in 2026-27, Keldur will have much more direct public transportation options to and from the city centre. Officials estimate that travel time on the BRT from Keldur and Lækjartorg will be approximately 20 minutes.

‘Against excessive parking’

While the building of a new residential community on the outskirts of a city might naturally imply high car ownership, “officials are are recommending against excessive parking,” explains Streetblog, and have “already promised to devote 100% of the profits from the development and sale of the land towards bringing frequent bus rapid transit service to residents. More broadly, the contest organizers called on entrants to ‘prioritize the eco-friendliest, most compact, and least cumbersome mode of transportation’ in their designs.”

Brad Toderian, one of the international experts serving on the Keldur competition’s judging panel, applauds the City of Reykjavík’s focus on creating “a truly urban place, not just a better suburb,” one that is “not just a little less car dependent, but that’s truly multimodal.” Toderian says that from a North American perspective, the competition is unique not only in that it accepts submissions from anyone, but also because “it’s more ambitious than North America is usually willing to be in these kinds of contexts.”

Cycle city

In addition to linking to the BRT, the Keldur neighborhood is intended to attract cyclists and encourage two-wheeled transit. The contest brief particularly emphasizes the “importance of integrating the region into the city’s ambitious Cycling plan — the city wants 10% of all trips to be taken on two wheels by 2025 — creating reliable pedestrian connections to surrounding areas, and making sure residents can meet their basic needs with a twenty minute walk or less.”

“BRT has a prime role to play,” says Toderian, “but it’s also about walkability and bikeability; it’s about carbon neutrality; it’s about green building design.”

Read the full Streetsblog article, in English, here. The Keldur Contest Brief (also in English), with information about how to submit a design proposal is available here. Queries about phase one of the project will be accepted until March 17, 2023; submissions will be accepted until April 19, 2023.

Tesla Best-Selling Private Car in Iceland Last Year

Tesla electric cars were the best-selling passenger vehicle for individual consumers in 2022, RÚV reports. This is part of a larger pattern: more than half of new cars sold to individuals in 2022 were electric cars. Tesla did not, however, sell the most cars overall in Iceland. That distinction belongs to Toyota, although cars sold to rental companies accounted for 73% of its sales last year.

Changing patterns and incentives related to energy consumption have significantly shifted the automobile market in Iceland. According to María Jóna Magnúsdóttir, executive director of the Automotive Industry Association, last year was the seventh highest year for automobile sales in the country since 1972.

“It’s gone pretty well, in spite of great disasters around the world; car sales here have been good,” she remarked. “We’re naturally seeing a huge spike in the sale of electric cars, especially to individuals. They’re choosing electric cars just over 50% of the time.”

Toyota sold the most cars overall, Tesla the most cars for personal use

Just under 16,700 cars were newly registered in Iceland last year. Of these, 7,600 were rental cars.

Toyota is the foremost seller of cars that will be used on the rental market in Iceland. A total of 2,754 Toyota passenger cars were sold last year, the majority of which—or 1,440 cars—were intended as rentals. The remaining 739 Toyotas were sold to individuals.

The manufacturer that sold the second highest number of new cars in Iceland last year was Kia, with 1,800 cars sold. Hyundai was next, with just over 1,400 cars sold. Tesla came in fourth overall, with 1,300 cars sold.

However, if only car sales to individuals are considered, then the rankings shift in Tesla’s favor. Tesla sold 872 cars to individuals last year, followed by Toyota with 739, Kia with 717, and Hyundai with 502 cars sold for personal use. Tesla only sells electric cars, but it is not the only manufacturer that does. Toyota, however, has fewer electric options than its fellow brands.

Overall, nearly 5,600 electric cars were sold in Iceland last year. More diesel cars were sold in 2022 than in 2021 and 2020.

At-home charging only ISK 3 / km

Electric cars are commonly considered to be much cheaper to run and maintain in Iceland, not least because electricity is so much less expensive than petrol.

It’s been estimated that a five-person electric car costs roughly ISK 3/km [$0.021; €0.020/km] if it is charged at home. The price of domestic electricity in Iceland, including distribution charges, is estimated to cost roughly ISK 17 [$0.12; €0.11] per kilowatt-hour. It is more expensive to pay for electricity at fast charging stations and at so-called supercharger stations, though the charging process is, of course, much faster.

Reykjavík City Announces Expansion of Paid Parking Zones

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses square

Changes will soon be made to paid parking zones in Reykjavík, the City announced yesterday. A recent tally indicates that parking spaces just outside paid-parking zones are heavily used.

Heavy use of spaces just outside paid parking zones

Yesterday, the City announced that it will be expanding paid parking zones in Reykjavík. According to a press release, a recent tally has indicated that spaces just beyond paid parking zones are heavily used. This gives “occasion to expand paid-parking zones in specific areas” and in accordance with regulations. The expansion will mainly apply to Zone 2 parking spaces but also to Zone 1 and 3.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the City’s Environment and Planning Branch (Umhverfis- og skipulagsráð) approved a proposal, which has subsequently been referred to City Council. The proposal has also been put to the capital area police where it met with approval. The proposal will, however, not come into effect prior to approval and publication by City Council. Appropriate signage and metres must also be installed within new paid-parking zones.

The following parking zones will be expanded:

  • Parking Zone 1
    • Grettisgata between Rauðarárstígur and Snorrabraut
  • Parking Zone 2
    • Hrannarstígur
    • Öldugata, Bárugata, Ránargata, and Vesturgata (between Ægisgata and Stýrimannastígur
    • Stýrimannastígur
    • Blómvallagata
    • Ásvallagata and Sólvallagata (east of Hofsvallagata)
    • Hávallagata (between Hofsvallagata and Blómvallagata)
    • Tjarnargata (from no. 33 to Hringbraut)
    • Bjarkargata
    • Baldursgata (between Freyjugata and Skólavörðustígur)
    • Lokastígur and Þórsgata up to Skólavörðustígur
    • The area between Laugavegur, Rauðarárstígur and Bríetartún
  • Parking Zone 3
    • Baldursgata and Bragagata (from Nönnugata to Freyjugata)
    • Freyjugata (from Baldursgata to Njarðargata)

As noted by the press release, residents within paid parking zones can apply for residential cards. Conditions being met, holders of residential cards are allowed to park within applicable parking zones for free.

Possible Changes to Car Rentals, Including Limits on Mileage and Age

winter tires reykjavík

Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir stated in an interview yesterday with RÚV that changes may be coming for the rental car industry in Iceland.

The statement came in response to the Ministry of Tourism’s efforts to improve education for foreign drivers on Icelandic roads following the tragic 2018 accident by Núpsvötn, in which three British citizens died.

Iceland’s unique landscape is of course a major driver of the tourism industry, but many foreign tourists may not be prepared for the road conditions in Iceland.

Read more: Núpsvötn Car Accident Among Worst in Icelandic History

The car in involved in the Núpsvötn accident had been driven some 340,00km and was 12 years old. Now, politicians and members of the tourism industry are reconsidering what regulations should apply to rental cars to prevent future accidents.

“We will refer this to a working group within the ministry that has been working to promote increased security for tourists in this country. We will use this terrible incident to improve regulations and possible legislation to ensure further safety in this country,” Lilja stated to RÚV.

Hendrik Berndsen, chairman of Hertz in Iceland and chairman of the Tourism Association’s Car Rental Committee, also expressed the need for better regulation in the rental car industry.

The Tourism Association is responsible for 90% of Iceland’s 24,000 rental cars.

Speaking to RÚV, he called for a limit of 200,000km for rental cars, and a possible limit of 6-8 years.

“It may not be possible to directly blame the car,” he said,  “but is very important that there are the latest cars for drivers who come to the country.”

Car Taxes and Fees to Rise in Iceland

driving in reykjavík

The cost of owning a car in Iceland will rise significantly next year, if the 2023 budget bill is passed in its current form. The bill proposes hikes in gasoline and emissions taxes as well as the general vehicle tax. A new tax will be imposed on electric cars and new road tolls will also be implemented. The green energy transition will require the Icelandic government to restructure how it taxes vehicles and fuel, the main source of funding for road and transport infrastructure.

“Goes way too far”

The hikes in fees and taxes represent a 36% increase in revenue from vehicles for the state, according to Rúnólfur Ólafsson, chairman of the Icelandic Automobile Association (FÍB). “And then this comes with new taxes on both petrol and diesel,” Rúnólfur told RÚV. “This is happening at the same time as the Minister of Infrastructure is talking about greatly increased new taxation of public use of vehicles with so-called road tolls in tunnels, over bridges, and so on.”

Public transport infrastructure is limited in Iceland, meaning that the majority of the population relies on private vehicles to access employment and services. Rúnólfur says the additional costs will hurt the most vulnerable sectors of the population. “These are hugely increased charges that are being announced in one fell swoop, and we believe that this goes way too far as it is being proposed now.”

Cost of electric vehicles to rise

The government also proposes applying a 5% minimum excise duty on all cars, meaning that a full discount will no longer be applied to electric cars. While Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated there will continue to be strong incentives to buy environmentally friendly cars, FÍB calculates that the excise duty and value-added tax will raise the cost of electric cars by ISK 300,000 [$2,150; €2,150], though the rise could be as much as ISK 1 million for some cars [$7,160; €7,160].

Iceland funds the maintenance and development of roads and infrastructure through taxation on vehicles and fuel. A notice on the budget bill states the restructuring of this taxation will be one of the biggest challenges for the treasury in the coming years.

Cars With Studded Tires Pollute 40 Times More

smog

Studded tires are a major factor in particulate pollution, RÚV reports. Þorsteinn Jóhansson, an expert at the Environment Agency of Iceland, presented the data in an open meeting today on the impact of studded tires on air quality and road surfaces.

“A car with studded tires wears down [the road] many times over compared to a car without studded tires. That is 20-40 times more. That is not 20-40% more, rather at least 2000% more,” Þorsteinn stated. High levels of particulate pollution occur regularly in Reykjavík in the spring, when the weather is still, road surfaces are dry, and drivers have not yet switched over to summer tires.

While Þorsteinn stated that it is clearly in the interest of those responsible for road maintenance to reduce the use of studded tires, he admitted that the need for such tires varies. “Especially people who live out in the countryside or people who are driving from Selfoss over Hellisheiði. There will certainly be days when it is better to be on studded tires, such as when there is wet ice, then studded tires have the advantage.”

He pointed out that in Norway, a studded tire tax has been imposed to reduce their negative impact. “Studded tires are not banned anywhere in Norway, but there are fees in certain towns, so it is each municipality that decides and there has been an economic incentive to reduce the use of studded tires.” Those who live in the countryside and drive into Oslo can buy a studded tire “passport,” which can be an annual, monthly, or daily pass. Þorsteinn believes such a system could work in Iceland.

“If there is permission to charge, it would certainly only be municipalities in the capital area that would use it. Residents of Ísafjörður would never impose a fee for studded tires.”

As a US citizen, can I bring my guns and cars over?

While the most difficult part of bringing a car over from the states is shipping, importing guns is more complicated. Icelandic legislation requires gun owners to hold a firearms permit, unless the weapon has been permanently deactivated by a gunsmith.
To own a gun in Iceland, you must be at least 20 years old with no criminal record. You must pass a mental and physical health check and get recommendations from two people to attend a course on guns, gun safety, and gun and hunting laws. After passing a written test, you’re issued a permit for smaller shotguns and rifles. For larger rifles (up to 30 calibres) and semi-automatic shotguns, you must wait an additional year.
It’s prohibitedto import automatic or semi-automatic handguns to Iceland; automatic or semi-automatic rifles; automatic shotguns; and semi-automatic or manually loaded multi-cartridge shotguns with chambers for more than two cartridges, unless the weapon has been modified to comply with these conditions. Importing firearms without a manufacturer’s serial number is prohibited, but this condition can be waived when a firearm has a collectible value. Collector permits can be issued for the possession of collectible firearms with historical value.
As for cars, all imported vehicles must be cleared through customs and examined in an accredited inspection facility, and finally registered with the Icelandic Transport Authority.

You may also find the more recent Ask Iceland Review on importing guns to Iceland to be useful!

Reykjavík to Cap Speed Limits at 50km/h

driving in reykjavík

Speed limits will be lowered to 50km/h throughout Reykjavík according to a motion approved by Reykjavík’s Planning and Transportation Council yesterday. Most streets in the city will have a speed limit of 30-40km/h. The motion does not affect arterial roads managed by the Road and Coastal Administration such as Miklabraut, Sæbraut, or Kringlumýrarbraut.

Aim to Improve Traffic Safety

The goal of the change is to promote improved traffic safety and prevent serious accidents. Per a notice from the City of Reykjavík: “The lower the speed of a vehicle, the easier it is for the driver to prevent an accident, because in the time it takes to react to an unexpected event, the faster the speed, the longer the distance travelled. Traffic speed is therefore a very important variable in any discussion of traffic safety.” Reducing maximum speed limits should not only help prevent accidents, but reduce the severity of accidents that do occur, according to the notice.

Lowers Noise and Pollution

The notice suggests implementing the measures over a five-year period, which is expected to cost ISK 240-300 million ($1.9-2.4 million/€1.6-2 million). Besides improved safety, lower speed limits are expected to have other positive impacts, including a decrease in traffic noise and pollution. A recent Icelandic study found that vehicles created up to 40% less particulate pollution at lower speeds. Particulate pollution affects air quality in Reykjavík and elsewhere in Iceland, particularly in the spring time when weather is dry and many vehicles are still using studded tires.

Not Expected to Cause Traffic Delays

According to the City of Reykjavík, lower speeds will not lead to heavier traffic: “The maximum traffic capacity of the street system and delays around rush hour are usually determined by the capacity of intersections, light controls, and other traffic. The reduction of the maximum speed is not expected to have a significant effect on delays during rush hour, as at those times traffic lights and other traffic will have a greater effect on the actual speed than the maximum speed limit.”