Reykjavík City Lowers Speed Limit on More than 150 Streets

Aerial view of Reykjavík city traffic during winter

The 50 km/h speed limit common on many Reykjavík city streets will soon be a thing of the past, as speed limits throughout the city are to be lowered.

New speed limits will be either 30 or 40 km/h on many roads throughout the capital region.

See also: Reykjavík to Cap Speed Limits

The changes which are to be implemented were agreed upon in April of this year. However, the changes are expected to take much of the coming year, so Reykjavík motorists will have some time to adjust.

Notably, however, the changes will not apply to roads that are operated by authorities other than Reykjavík city. Many major arterial roads, such as Sæbraut, Kringlumýrarbraut, Miklabraut, Hringbraut, and Reykjanesbraut are administered by the Icelandic Road Administration, and will not be affected by the new, lower, limits.

The goal of the reduced speed limits is to promote road safety within the city.

For a complete overview of the affected streets, see RÚV.

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.”


Proposes Urban Speed Limits of 30km/h (19mph)

driving in reykjavík

Independent MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson intends to present a bill to Parliament proposing that speed limits in urban areas drop from 50 km/h (31mph)to 30km/h (19mph). He cites traffic safety and air quality as reasons for the change but municipalities would still be able to increase the speed limit where circumstances allow.

The bill proposes that the maximum speed limit would be lowered to 30 km/h (19mph) “but municipalities have the power to raise the speed limit where circumstances allow it,” Andrés told Vísir. According to the bill, the decision-making power would be in the hands of the municipalities instead of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. Andrés considers that an improvement and refers to the recent discussion on the Hringbraut speed limit, which was lowered following two near-accidents. “The city had to fight IRCA on this when residents called for the speed limit to be lowered. If the bill becomes law, the burden of proof would be on the other side and changes to the speed limits would depend on people’s safety, especially the safety of the most vulnerable group, pedestrians.

Asked about the effect this would have on traffic speed, he says it isn’t about lowering the speed limit everywhere to 30 km/h (19mph), it’s that a higher speed limit would need to be justified and supported by valid arguments.

The bill also proposes that traffic laws would no longer permit a speed limit of 110 km/h (68mph) in certain roads and that the speed limit in parking lots be lowered from 15km/h (9mph) to 10 km/h(6mph). While the laws allow for a speed limit of 110km/h(68mph), no roads in Iceland have a speed limit above 90km/h(56mph). Andrés states that it’s a matter of traffic safety and air quality. He points to development in other countries, such as Sweden, where speed limits were lowered to reduce traffic accidents. “Just this year, both Spain and the Netherlands have decided to reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h (19mph) just like I’m suggesting we do here.”

Andrés Ingi is currently seeking support for the bill and intends to present it to Parliament in the next few days.

New Speed Cameras Installed Near Selfoss

The Icelandic Road Administration has installed two new speed cameras on the Ring Road in South Iceland, just east of the town of Selfoss. RÚV reports that the cameras will go into use on March 1.

The cameras are part of the government’s road safety plan, says the Icelandic Road Administration, which aims to reduce traffic speed throughout the country as well as the number of road accidents. The government passed a number of new traffic laws that went into effect on January 1 this year, including permitting authorities to ban or limit traffic to reduce pollution, lowering the maximum blood alcohol level permitted for drivers from 0.05% to 0.02%, and officially making it illegal to drive through red lights (this was previously a traffic regulation, but had not been made into law).

The digital cameras will send images of speeding violations directly to the police (photos will only be taken of vehicles in violation of the speed limit).

Unless otherwise marked, the general speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/hr in residential areas, 80 km/h on gravel roads in rural areas, and 90 km/h on asphalt roads. For more information, see the Icelandic Transport Authority’s “How to Drive in Iceland” page, here.


Right of Way Signage on One-Way Bridges Confusing for Drivers

Traffic signs showing what driving direction has the right of way are not clear enough for use on Iceland’s one-way bridges. Vísir reports that the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration is considering whether they should change look of the sign in order to ensure that there is no doubt about whether drivers should wait for oncoming traffic or proceed first across a one-way bridge.

In its review of the traffic code, the Road Administration also presented other ideas on things like the unified speed limit for all vehicles. According to some who participated in the review, Iceland’s road system can’t support heavy transport travelling at that speed. Road shoulders in poor condition along the Ring Road were pointed to as evidence of some of the inherent risks of vehicles carrying heavy loads travelling at such high speeds.

Other ideas under consideration include dividing bidirectional lanes on Route 1. Such a partition may well have prevented a serious accident that occurred in South Iceland only recently when the driver of a car lost control on an icy patch of road and collided with one traveling in the opposite direction. The vehicles crashed at high speed, flipping one of them. Three of the four passengers in the accident then had to be airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries.

Following a traffic accident which ended in the deaths of two adults and one child ost their lives when their vehicle went through the railing on a single-lane bridge, the Road Administration elected to reduce the speed limit to 50 kph [31 mph] on all single-lane bridges throughout the country. The country’s 75 single-lane bridges are highly trafficked: it’s estimated that more than 300 cars cross single-lane bridges every day in Iceland.

At the same time that the speed limit was reduced, the Road Administration also planned to change signage to indicate which traffic direction had the right of way. These signs show a red arrow and a black arrow to represent the two different traffic directions. The black arrow is supposed to indicate the direction that has the right-of-way, however, when the arrows are the same size, it often confuses drivers. The Road Administration is then considering a change that New Zealand made to their own signage in which the red arrow is made significantly smaller in order to eliminate any doubt as to what direction has priority.

Speed Limit Reduced on Single-Lane Bridges

The Icelandic Road Administration has decided to reduce the speed limit to 50 kph [31 mph] on all single-lane bridges throughout the country, Vísir reports. There are 75 single-lane bridges in Iceland and it’s estimated that the cost of changing the speed limit signage for each of them will cost between ISK 70 – 80 million [$581,108; €506,170]. The resulting safety benefits, however, are expected to be worth the expense.

The Road Administration’s decision comes in the wake of the fatal car accident at Núpsvötn at the end of December in which three tourists—including one child—lost their lives when their vehicle went through the railing on a single-lane bridge.

The country’s 75 single-lane bridges are highly trafficked: it’s estimated that more than 300 cars cross single-lane bridges every day in Iceland. This makes sense, given that about half of them are located along the Ring Road. In addition to changing out the speed limit signage, the Road Administration will add English signage at the crossings to ensure that foreign travelers take appropriate safety precautions. They will be reviewing speed limits on roads throughout the country and either reducing speed limits as deemed necessary or installing additional speed limit signage. There will also be an assessment of bridge conditions on main and connecting roads and improvements made according to need and budgetary limitations.

All combined, these improvements are intended to increase driver safety throughout the country, but the Road Administration urges travelers to remember the “Golden Rule” that always applies while driving: adjust your speed according to what is safe given current road conditions, not simply the posted speed limit.

Parents On Crossing Guard Duty After Teen Hit by Car

Reykjavík baby

Parents and school staff in the Vesturbær neighborhood on the west side of Reykjavík are on high alert after a thirteen-year-old was hit by a car while walking to school this week, RÚV reports. The same afternoon, city officials stationed a crossing guard at the accident site to make street crossings safer for schoolchildren, but just to be safe, neighborhood parents have also taken up an informal watch.

The victim, who luckily did not sustain any serious injuries during the event, was hit at the intersection of Hringbraut and Meistaravellir at 9.00am on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, neighborhood residents, such as Ólöf Jakobsdóttir and her husband and father, stationed themselves at different points along the busy street in the early morning hours. The new crossing guard is intended to be stationed at Hringbraut and Meistaravellir until the spring, but Ólöf says she intends to personally monitor traffic and pedestrians at her corner, Framnesvegur and Hringbraut, until they feel sure that local children will be safe.

Parents Take Up Watch

“[We’ll be here] for a while, at least,” Ólöf confirmed, “and we hope that [other] parents take some part in this, too. We’re going to do it, at least, me and my husband. My dad, a grandfather, is up for coming out and keeping watch there, too. Maybe until we see that it’s in place, this crossing guard patrol, that the city’s providing. Just until we feel safe about stopping.”

Ólöf also believes that the traffic lights at intersections along Hringbraut should be adjusted so that all traffic comes to a stop when the walk sign is green.

Margrét Einarsdóttir, the principal of Vesturbæjarskóli elementary school, also came out to monitor traffic along Hringbraut this morning. “Everything went well this morning and there was also a police officer on site…But of course this issue needs to be examined more closely – [traffic] speed, etc. And we’ve been doing that for a number of years – that’s not lacking.”

School Lacked Funding for Crossing Guard

Crossing guard duty in the area is actually under the purview of a school employee. But although the school had previously received requests for a crossing guard at Hringbraut and Meistaravellir, Margrét says that the city had not provided funding for this until the accident occurred on Wednesday. She says that local residents have been complaining about traffic conditions along Hringbraut for many years.

A working group led by the City of Reykjavík’s Environment and Planning Committee did in fact publish a report in January 2017 which proposed, among other things, that the speed of traffic west of Kringlumýrarbraut be lowered by 10 km/hr in two areas where the current speed limit is 50-60km/h (31-37mi/h). It was also suggested that pedestrian paths along streets where the speed limit is 40-50km/h (25-31mi/h), such as the section of Hringbraut where the child was hit, be raised and more clearly marked.

Police will hold a meeting with residents next week to discuss traffic along Hringbraut.