Four Taxi Drivers Charged with Reckless Driving

Taxis at the airport

Four capital-area taxi drivers were charged with serious traffic violations on Saturday night, RÚV reports. Police conducted targeted surveillance of taxis after some particularly egregious driving was caught on traffic cameras downtown. These cameras caught multiple incidences of taxis driving on sidewalks, down pedestrian-only streets, stopped in the middle of intersections, and generally obstructing traffic.

Police gave verbal warnings to a number of taxi drivers on Saturday night and charged four with serious traffic violations. According to one pedestrian who spoke with police who were patrolling downtown, a taxi driver had driven behind them on a pedestrian-only street and yelled aggressively at them to get out of the way.

In a statement released about the incidents, police remind taxi drivers that they are subject to the same laws as other drivers. It is illegal to park or stop a vehicle on the sidewalk, they point out, to drive down pedestrian-only streets, or to obstruct traffic more generally. Specially designated parking is available for taxis in two places downtown, the statement continues, and if those are full, taxis must utilize regular nearby car parks.

New Traffic Laws Take Effect in January

car road mountains winter

On January 1, new traffic laws which were passed by Alþingi in June take effect. The laws include significant changes to existing traffic laws, including permitting authorities to ban or limit traffic to reduce pollution, and raising speed limits to 110km/h (68m/h) where opposing lanes are separated and conditions allow. Vísir reported first.

Roundabout rule confirmed

The new traffic legislation has confirmed the Icelandic convention when driving in roundabouts with two lanes: that the driver in the outer lane must give priority to drivers in the inner lane when they are exiting the roundabout. This rule contradicts the convention in most other countries, where the driver in the outer lane has the right of way.

A driver entering a roundabout must use the outer lane if he intends to take the first exit. It is also illegal to switch lanes by the roundabout or within it.

Blood alcohol limit lowered

The new legislation also lowers the maximum blood alcohol level permitted for drivers from 0.05% to 0.02%. Thus, a driver will not be considered safely able to control his vehicle if his blood alcohol level is above 0.02%. However, the penalty limit will remain at 0.05%, meaning drivers will not be penalised unless their blood alcohol level is measured above 0.05%.

Red lights

Some of the changes are simply setting existing regulations firmly into law: for example, banning driving through red lights. The ban exists currently in traffic regulations but is not written into law. The new legislation also states that mandatory driving lights must be always switched on, regardless of circumstances. A ban on the use of smartphones and similar devices while driving has been clarified, for both motor vehicle operators and cyclists.

Cyclists given space

As of next month, cyclists will be permitted to take up the entire lane where the speed limit is 30km/h. Drivers will also be required by law to give cyclists the right of way when turning across a bicycle lane and have a berth of at least 1.5m (4.9ft) when passing cyclists. Cyclists are permitted to bike across pedestrian crossings, but only at walking speed.

No throwing trash

The new laws also institute a complete ban on throwing garbage from vehicles or anything else that contaminates the road or environment. The previous ban on similar actions only applied to materials that could pose a danger or inconvenience to other travellers.

Drivers’ Blood Alcohol Limit Lowered

rainy windshield

A bill amending the Traffic Act with extensive changes was passed unanimously by the Icelandic parliament yesterday, RÚV reports. A decrease in the legal blood alcohol limit is one of its changes. Transport Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson says the amendments have been in the works for 12 years.

Drunk driving ban strengthened

According to the new laws, the maximum blood alcohol level permitted for drivers will be lowered from 0.05% to 0.02%. The bill’s exposition states that drunk driving is the second most prevalent cause of traffic accidents in Iceland, after speeding. Research shows that a blood alcohol level of 0.05% has a significant impact on the motorist’s driving ability and increases the likelihood of accidents. A driver with 0.05% blood alcohol concentration level is 150 times more likely to lose their life in a traffic accident compared to a sober driver.

The bill has several aims, including to increase traffic safety and modernise Icelandic traffic laws. It also aims to further adapt Icelandic traffic laws to international laws. A comprehensive revision of the Traffic Act began in 2017, based on an earlier bill prepared in committee in 2007.

Iceland Should Reverse Roundabout Rule

Iceland roundabout rule

Icelanders should reverse the unique rule that grants the inner lane the right of way in roundabouts, according to traffic safety specialist Ólafur Kr. Guðmundsson. Iceland’s parliament is in the process of revising the country’s traffic laws, and Ólafur told Vísir he hopes it will see fit to adopt international traffic regulations which give the outer lane the right of way in roundabouts.

Unique rule contradicts “right of way”

When it comes to exiting roundabouts, driving schools in Iceland teach students that vehicles in the inner lane have the right of way and those in the outer lane must yield. The fact that in most other nations the opposite is true may not have been a problem in the past, but an increase in foreign drivers on Icelandic roads means this difference in regulation is leading to accidents.

Ólafur says he doesn’t know of any nations besides Iceland which grant the inner lane the right of way in a roundabout. “This is the opposite of what other nations do,” he says, adding that Iceland’s rule contradicts one of the fundamental traffic regulations, the so-called “right of way” rule, which in most situations compels drivers to yield to the vehicle to their right.

Cause of property damage

According to Ólafur, the rule discrepancy has led to many accidents in Iceland. He points out one example: the roundabout on Vesturlandsvegur between Reykjavík and Mosfellsbær has been the site of over 70 collisions in just five years, most occurring when drivers are exiting the roundabout. Giving the outer lane the right of way would not only diminish misunderstandings between local and foreign drivers, but also make it easier for Icelanders to drive abroad.

Self-driving software struggles

The forthcoming arrival of self-driving cars is also a reason to reconsider the contrary rule, Ólafur asserts. A self-driving Tesla which he tested in Iceland struggled with the local roundabouts, and it is unlikely such vehicles’ software will take the exceptional rule into account.

While some Icelanders may argue it is more logical to grant the inner lane the right of way, Ólafur doesn’t think they’ll manage to convince other nations to take up the rule. “I think it’s much simpler to teach 300,000 people a new rule rather than transform the whole world. I would start with these 300,000.”

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.

Drivers Face New Fines for Children Not Wearing Seat Belts

Route 1 Iceland

As of this weekend, Suðurnes police in South Iceland will be issuing tickets to drivers traveling with children in their vehicles who are not in car seats or wearing seat belts, RÚV reports.

Police spent part of last week at preschools in the Reykjanesbær municipality, monitoring the child safety measures that drivers had in place in their cars. According to a post on the Suðurnes police Facebook page, the “situation was…not good.” In fact, police found that one in ten children encountered during their rounds were neither wearing seat belts nor in car seats.  As such, police have decided to “take a different approach” and fine drivers who are not in compliance with existing child safety laws.

Police were adamant that it didn’t matter if the car trip was a short one, or if parents were running late. No matter the reason, their post read, “[n]ot putting children in the safety equipment required by law is not okay, and having examined this issue and seen the state of things over the last few days, we’ve got to put our feet down and apply sanctions.”

The new fine for not putting a child in a car seat or seat belt in a car is ISK 30,000 ($250/€217).


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.

Brothers Ride to Raise Cyclist Safety Awareness

On November 6 of last year, Eggert Þorfinnsson died in a cycling accident at 80 years of age when he was hit by a car on Sæbraut, not far from his home. Vísir reports that on Tuesday, his two sons retraced their father’s last bike route, from Kirkjusandur on the east side of Reykjavík to Harpa, to raise awareness of cyclist safety.

One of Eggert’s sons, Sigurður Jónas Eggertsson, criticized a recent draft of a traffic law which proposes that cyclists ride on the right side of the lane.

“I think it’s preposterous,” he remarked. “If there’s parking on the street, where cars are parked right there and need to back out into the street, then drivers will never see a cyclist if he’s on the right side. He needs to be in the middle or on the left side. This poses a danger,” he concluded.

Higher Fines Not Discouraging Drivers

Increased fines for traffic-related violations are not discouraging many drivers from engaging in finable behaviors, RÚV reports. Most notably, during May and June, police issued tickets totaling just over ISK 10 million [$93,510 / €80,110] to drivers who were not using a hands-free device for talking on the phone while driving. This fine was significantly increased earlier this year, as were the fines for driving with winter tires outside of the legal season, not wearing a seatbelt, speeding, and drunk driving.

As of May, drivers who do not use a hands-free device to talk on their phones are now fined ISK 40,000 [$387; €320], up from ISK 5,000 [$49; €40]. The fine for drivers who’ve failed to remove their winter tires went up from last year’s ISK 5,000 [$49; €40] per tire to ISK 20,000 [$196; €160] / tire. The fine for not wearing a seatbelt doubled and is now ISK 20,000 [$196; €160].

All total, 263 drivers were fined for not using a hands-free device during May and June, up from the 76 who were fined for the same offense during the same time period last year. 36 drivers received tickets in May and June for driving with winter tires, which is down significantly from last year, when almost 100 drivers were fined for this same offense. During the same period, 53 were fined for not wearing seatbelts, which is roughly the same number of people who were fined for this violation last year.

All total, 6,570 people received speeding tickets in May and June, which is double the number of people who received speeding tickets at the same time last year. The amount of each ticket depends on how fast the person was driving in relation to the posted speed limit. As an example, a person driving 90 km/hr [56 miles/hr] on Vesturlandsvegur, a street that runs between Reykjavík and Mosfellsbær and has a posted speed limit of 80 km/hr [50 miles/hr] would be fined ISK 15,000 [$140; €120]. A person driving 150 km/hr [93 miles/hr] on the same road would be ticketed ISK 240,000 [$2,243; €1,922].

More people were ticketed for driving drunk or otherwise under the influence in May and June this year than last year, with fines totaling at least ISK 30 million [$280,271; €240,440].