In Focus: Traffic Safety

traffic safety iceland

 January of 2024 was the deadliest month in terms of traffic deaths in Iceland’s history. Six people lost their lives in car accidents; one in an accident near Vík, two on Grindavíkurvegur, two near Skaftafell, and one in Hvalfjörður. Such a rate of fatal accidents had not been seen since record keeping began some 50 […]

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February Marks Highest Ever Traffic Levels in Capital Area

Renting a car can be a great way to get around Reykjavík

February experienced the highest traffic volume on record in the capital region, with a 6.7% increase from the previous year. Predictions by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration indicate a potential 4% rise in traffic for the current year.

Slow Sundays, busy Thursdays

February saw an unprecedented volume of traffic in the capital region, marking the highest levels ever recorded for this month. Traffic increased by 6.7% compared to February of the previous year, based on three key measurement points of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration in the capital area.

The most significant rise in traffic occurred on the Vesturlandsvegur road above Ártúnsbrekka in East Reykjavík, while the most minor increase was noted on Reykjanesbraut near Dalvegur in Kópavogur. According to the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s website, cumulative traffic (the total amount of vehicle movement or traffic flow recorded over a specific period) has grown by 5.2% so far this year.

Traffic peaked on Thursdays in February but was lowest on Sundays, although the most significant year-on-year increase was seen on Sundays. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s calculations suggest that traffic in the capital area could rise 4% this year compared to the last.

“With only two months into the year, the traffic division’s forecasting model of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration suggests that there could be an increase of just over 4% in traffic in the capital area, based on the mentioned measurement points, compared to last year.”

Blackout and Snow Storm Cause Dozens of Car Crashes

Reykjavík from above, housing crisis Iceland

A power outage coincided with a snow storm in Reykjavík yesterday afternoon, leading to traffic chaos. A number of central neighbourhoods experienced blackouts due to a high-voltage breakdown, while at the same time, motorists braved the storm with little help from malfunctioning traffic lights.

“What happened is that it snowed a lot in a very short amount of time, the snow got compressed down and became very slippery,” Árni Friðleifsson of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police told RÚV.

Around 30 traffic accidents had been reported to roadside assistance firm Arekstur when RÚV contacted them in the late afternoon. “We’ve dispatched all our cars and the traffic is completely halted,” said Arekstur CEO Kristján Kristjánsson.

Hospitals on back-up power

Due to the power outage, Landspítali hospitals in Fossvogur and at Hringbraut had to pull from back-up power. This was also the case for Reykjavík airport (RVK), which mostly services domestic flights. However, while both the airport itself and the air traffic control centre were operational, a blackout at the terminal delayed a flight to Akureyri for about an hour, as all luggage had to be manually checked in.

By evening, power had been restored. The rush hour traffic cleared up as traffic lights came back on and the storm cleared.

“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.”

Hellisheiði Closed After First Snowfall of the Year

winter weather iceland

After the first snowfall of the year, Hellisheiði, the section of road connecting the capital region to the South Coast, has been closed.

Several weather warnings were in effect through the night, and much of West, Southwest, and South Iceland are still under a yellow warning. Travellers can expect high winds, and unnecessary travel is to be avoided.

Expect Closures

G. Pétur Matthíasson, a spokesperson for the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, stated to RÚV: “This is the first weather like this here in the southwest of the country, where most of the traffic is. So, the conditions on Hellisheiði and Þrengsli [an alternate route to the South Coast] are not very good, which is why Hellisheiði has been closed due to the weather, and Þrengsli is at an uncertain stage.”

There are also reports of several stranded cars and drivers have encountered difficulties this morning due to severe conditions in the area. “This morning on Hellisheiði, there were quite a few cars that still had summer tires. The conditions were such that it’s not enough,” says G. Pétur stated to RÚV.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration will reassess the situation throughout the day. Hellisheiði will be reopened as soon as possible.

There was widespread snow in the countryside this morning, including in areas of the capital region.

Get the latest information on weather conditions at the Met Office. Live information on travel conditions and road closures can be viewed at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration’s travel website.

Record Ring Road Traffic

The latest numbers from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration show that July 2023 was a record-breaking month. According to IRCA, never before has there been more traffic on Route 1 in a single month.

July 2023 proved to be about seven per cent higher than July 2022. Year-on-year increases can be seen across the board, with 16 key figures being measured by IRCA. On average, nearly 125 thousand vehicles were recorded across Route 1 daily.

vegagerðin route 1
Daily average combined traffic. IRCA.

The largest increase was noted in and around the capital area. IRCA speculates that the increase is likely due to comparatively lower figures in the area compared to the season last year.

However, traffic in North and East Iceland decreased, compared to the same month last year, by 1.9% and 4.5% respectively.

 

ring road iceland
Sum of daily average traffic, in thousands. IRCA.

 

Total traffic has increased on all weekdays, with the most significant increase on Mondays, around 12.1%, and the least on Sundays, around 5.1%.

Friday was shown to be the busiest day, and Sunday the least.

IRCA expects the current increase to hold for the remainder of 2023. If this forecast holds, this would set a new annual traffic record on Route 1.

 

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Delays to and from Keflavík Airport Next Week

Taxis at the airport

Travellers are recommended to expect delays to and from Keflavík Airport next week due to the Council of Europe Summit on May 16 and 17. Getting to the flight gate may take longer than usual as well: RÚV reports that passport control will be tightened and passengers on domestic flights will be searched for weapons. In Reykjavík, a large part of the city centre will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Most of the state heads who will be attending the summit will be travelling by private jet. They will receive police escorts to and from Keflavík Airport, which is expected to cause delays in traffic along Route 41 (Reykjanesbraut). For security reasons, the flying of drones along Route 41 and in the centre of Reykjavík will also be banned from 8:00 AM on May 15 to 12:00 PM on May 18.

Read More: Armed Police and Snipers in Reykjavík for Council of Europe Summit

The periods with the most delays will be on Tuesday next week between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM and from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM on Wednesday, when leaders will travel to and from the airport with police escorts. As the escorts pass, roads will be closed to the public temporarily, then reopened. Travellers can expect delays to last up to one hour.

The area in light pink below will be closed to motor vehicles, while the area marked in bright pink will be fully closed to the public throughout the summit.

 

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.

Icelanders Seek Sunny Climes Over Easter

Tenerife elderly senior Spain

Between 600 and 700 arrivals and departures are expected at Keflavík airport over the Easter holiday, counting from last Saturday to Monday. Vísir reports that this is a significant increase over last year, when there were only about 100 arrivals and departures during the same timeframe.

Unsurprisingly, given the drizzly skies and temperatures hovering between 6-12°C [43-54°F] forecast in the capital over the weekend, the most popular destinations have been sunny beach destinations. City break vacation packages have also been in high demand.

As a result of the holiday flight frenzy, all the parking lots at Keflavík airport were filled as of Wednesday. Even though traffic out of the capital may now be considerably lighter than in recent years, those taking staycations within Iceland this Easter should nonetheless expect to encounter a fair amount of traffic heading north and to the Westfjords, as well as along Suðurlandsvegur heading toward the cottage communities in South Iceland.

As Gasoline Use Drops Iceland Must Find New Ways to Fund Infrastructure

driving in reykjavík

Icelandic authorities are looking into new ways to tax vehicle use, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated at a tax conference this morning, RÚV reports. Road and transport infrastructure in Iceland is currently funded by tax revenue from gasoline, and that revenue has decreased significantly in recent years, due to electric car use and other factors. 

“It’s important that we create a bridge from the old system and into the new one to ensure the treasury has enough revenue in the long term in order to support the development and maintenance of transport infrastructure,” Bjarni stated, adding that creating a new revenue system for transport and infrastructure was one of the biggest tax-related projects of this government term. The government would look at other ways of taxing vehicles, including by the distance driven, according to Bjarni. Any new taxation system implemented would need to continue to encourage consumers to buy greener vehicles, however. “We’ll see how it goes, that’s one of the big projects and we have already started,” Bjarni stated.

The Finance Minister also reviewed the government response to the ongoing pandemic at today’s conference. The taxation system had been amended to support homes and businesses due to the pandemic and help them grow out of the ensuing difficulties. Bjarni added that the Central Bank’s rate hikes could be taken as a warning, and that public funds in support of businesses and individuals must be reduced when possible.