New Kilometre Tax Proposed for Petrol and Diesel Vehicles

A car driving in the North Icelandic countryside.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs has announced plans to introduce a kilometre tax for gasoline and diesel vehicles. This tax was applied to electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen vehicles at the beginning of the year. The kilometre tax is intended to replace the current taxes on oil and gasoline, which are paid when purchasing fossil fuels. The planned tax would eliminate current oil and gasoline taxes. Read the proposed legislation here.

Adjusted by weight

The bill is planned to be presented before Alþingi this coming fall. Should it pass, it would take effect January 1, 2025. The bill proposes a kilometre tax based on the number of kilometres driven, adjusted for vehicle weight, regardless of the vehicle category.

Key points of the proposal include a fixed rate per kilometre for vehicles with a permitted total weight of 3,500 kg or less, as these vehicles generally cause similar road wear. For vehicles exceeding 3,500 kg, the tax amount will be based on total weight using a specific weight factor calculation. The tax will increase with the vehicle’s weight, reflecting the greater impact heavy vehicles have on road wear compared to lighter ones. This weight-based kilometre tax is intended to reflect the actual road use and weight of the vehicle.

Incentive to transition to renewable energy

The kilometre  tax will replace the current petrol and diesel taxes, which are paid when purchasing fossil fuels.

The tax will be paid based on an estimate of average monthly mileage and settled when the new odometer reading is recorded by an accredited inspection agency. The collection method will be similar to how utility companies bill for energy use.

If passed, the new system claims to ensure a continued financial incentive for the transition to renewable energy, as the new tax schedule would mean that the energy and maintenance costs for electric vehicles will remain significantly lower than those for fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

 

The Number One Tip for Staying Safe When Driving in Iceland?

A car driving in the North Icelandic countryside.

Travelling around Iceland is a magical experience unto itself, so long as it is done safely. Vehicle safety starts in one place – buckling up! Let’s learn more about the number one tip for staying safe when driving in Iceland.  

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The following is promotional content in partnership with Samagöngusdtofa – The Office of Transportation.

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Majestic farmlands merge with vast table-top mountains, their slopes trickling fresh water in rocky tiers. Glaciers the size of small countries twinkle mysteriously on the horizon, their icy caves and winding hiking trails luring adventure-seekers from far and wide. 

Surrounding it all, long stretches of black sand coast, dotted sparsely with small, rustic communities that typically lie on Route 01 – Iceland’s famous Ring Road.

It’s enough to make anyone want to pack a knapsack and take to the road. Indeed, perhaps you are well underway into planning your own adventure in Iceland…

As you plan your journey and dream of the breath-taking sights you’ll see, there’s one simple yet crucial piece of advice to keep in mind: safety first. 

When you board your tour coach or public bus, take a moment to notice a short but vital phrase displayed inside the vehicle:
 

“Spennum Beltin”

  

Don’t worry if you don’t understand the words immediately. 

But while there’s no expectation to learn Icelandic for your trip, this particular phrase is worthy of translating.

What Does Spennum Beltin Mean?

A driver wearing their seatbelt
Photo: PickPik.

Simply put, it means “Fasten seat belts.” 

Reminders such as these are an important part of the ongoing safety campaign promoted by Samagöngusdtofa, or to English-speakers, the Office of Transportation. 

This government body is dedicated to ensuring all travellers have a safe and enjoyable journey through Iceland.

Photo: Golli. The epic landscape of Dyrhólaey peninsula

Such a small, quick action makes an enormous difference regarding your safety on the road. 

Despite its simplicity, how often have you or someone you know skipped this step? 

The answer might surprise you. And it should definitely alarm you.

But recommendations to fasten your seat belt are not merely good advice. 

As you would expect, fastening your seat belt is the law in Iceland. Rule-breakers can expect hefty fines should they be caught skirting the regulations. 

Form A Lifesaving Habit

Photo: Pxhere. CC.

For anyone with a driver’s licence, fastening your seat belt should be automatic. 

A reflex as natural as turning the key in the ignition, readying your mirrors, or checking your fuel.  

It’s a lifesaver, proven to prevent countless tragedies since its introduction. 

Unique Challenges on Iceland’s Roads

winter tires reykjavík
Photo: Golli. Driving in Iceland's winter

Iceland’s roads are beautiful but challenging. Weather can change rapidly, and conditions can be unpredictable. 

In the winter time, roads are regularly covered with snow and ice. Pair that with fog so thick that it’s impossible to see five-feet ahead of you, and you might start to get a picture of how treacherous travel in Iceland can sometimes be.

Summer drivers have it easier, certainly, but that’s not to say the roads are absent of threats.

Not only are Iceland’s roads busier between June and September, but the omnipresent Midnight Sun can often create such a glare as to make visibility near impossible. 

The hazards that we’ve mentioned are largely dependent on the time of year and type of journey you will be making. Regardless of these factors, that first, crucial step of fastening a seat belt remains mandatory. 

Even if you’re a cautious driver, make sure everyone in your vehicle is buckled up before you start your journey.

Beyond Seat Belts: Stay Prepared

rain iceland traffic
Photo: Art Bicnick

While the news might highlight dramatic events like eruptions or avalanches, the reality is that traffic accidents pose a more significant risk.

Remember that old consolation; “You’re far more likely to be injured on your way to the airport than on your flight?” 

It’s not stated merely to downplay the dangers of air travel. Those words should also be a serious reminder that driving – something many of us take entirely for granted – is actually a risky action in itself. 

traffic safety iceland
Photo: Art Bicnick

For that reason alone, you would hope that most people have enough self-preservation to take all precautions before hitting the road. And, as we’ve learned, that all begins with one simple manoeuvre:

Spennum Beltin – Fasten your seat belt. 

As mentioned, ensuring everyone fastens their seat belt is the first step toward a safe and enjoyable trip in Iceland.

Ready to Explore Safely?

South Coast driving, speeding ticket
Photo: Golli. Driving on the South Coast

Given the breath-taking scenery, exciting tour activities, and fascinating local culture, it is little wonder that Iceland tops so many people’s bucket lists.

So, before embarking on your adventure around the land of ice and fire, remember that one simple phrase: Spennum Beltin. 

It might just save your life.

For more tips on staying safe while exploring the island, visit Samagöngusdtofa – The Office of Transportation.

Stay safe and enjoy the journey!

A mountain road in the Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. A mountain road in the Westfjords.

Public Bus Fares Rise Today in Iceland

Bus in Reykjavík, Iceland

New and higher public bus fares take effect in the capital area and across Iceland today. A single fare in the capital area is now ISK 650 ($4.69, €4.36), a rise of just over 3% from the previous fare of ISK 630 ($4.55, €4.23). A notice from Strætó, Iceland’s public bus service, says the fare hike is due to rising costs and salary hikes. The price of passes has been raised even more, around 3.85%.

Wage hikes largest driver

This is the second time that Strætó raises bus fares this year. At the end of 2023, a single fare cost ISK 570 krónur ($4.11, €3.83). That was raised to ISK 630 at the beginning of 2024, and is now being raised to ISK 650. This entails a 14% rise in just over six months. While inflation remains above fiscal targets in Iceland, yearly inflation was measured at 5.8% in June, significantly lower than the fare hikes Strætó has instituted. Strætó’s CEO Jóhannes Rúnarsson says that wage hikes are the largest driver of the fare hikes, and that wages account for 50-60% of Strætó’s operational costs.

Countryside bus fares also rise

In line with Strætó’s decision, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration has also raised the price of single fares in the countryside by 5.3%. This means that a public bus trip from Reykjavík to Akureyri will cost ISK 13,200 ($95.28, €88.64), where it formerly cost ISK 12,540 ($90.52, €84.22). A trip from Reykjavík to Keflavík will now cost ISK 2,400 (previously ISK 2,280).

Iceland Tightens Electric Scooter Regulations

A person riding an electric scooter by the Reykjavík city centre pond.

Operating an electric scooter while under the influence of alcohol is now a punishable offence in Iceland, RÚV reports. Alþingi, the country’s Parliament, recently passed amendments to the Traffic Law that set the same alcohol consumption limits on e-scooters as on other motorised vehicles. The changes also set age and speed limits on electric scooters.

Electric scooters have proliferated in Iceland over the past five years, particularly since short-term scooter rental companies Hopp and Zolo began operations in Reykjavík in 2019. Infrastructure in the city has been slow to accommodate the environmentally friendly vehicles, and it is not often clear for their users whether they should be on the sidewalk or the road.

Blood alcohol limit same as for motor vehicles

Data from recent years showed that e-scooter accidents spiked on Friday and Saturday nights, when their users were more likely to be under the influence of alcohol. The legal blood alcohol level of those operating electric scooters is now the same as for motor vehicles: 0.5 promille. The legal limit on breathalyser tests is 0.25 promille.

Age and speed limits set

Previously, e-scooters were under the same traffic laws as bicycles, but they now belong to a newly-established category for small motorised vehicles. The amendments include a new age limit for users of electric scooters, which is 13 years of age. Children under 16 are required by law to use helmets when operating electric scooters. The new legislation also prohibits modifying electric scooters or other small motorised vehicles so that their speed can exceed 25 kilometres per hour.

Traveller Walks 2.5 Hours to Keflavík International

Keflavík airport

One Australian Tiktoker has attracted international attention for her choice to walk to Keflavík International Airport to save on taxi fare.

The video was posted with the text: “When there is no public transport to the airport in Iceland at 5am and a taxi is €200 so you walk 2.5 hours to the airport with your suitcase.” At the time of writing, the video has been viewed some 2.5 million times.

@therealmaceyjane This will be a good dinner table story one day #iceland #backpacking ♬ Pedro – Jaxomy & Agatino Romero & Raffaella Carrà

A brief spot of fact-checking, however, reveals that the traveler was likely not staying in the Reykjavík area. Keflavík International Airport is located some 55 km from downtown Reykjavík, and about 40 km from the suburb of Hafnarfjörður. Walking to Keflavík International Airport from either of these locations would take the better part of a day, especially with luggage in tow. The traveler was more likely staying in a hotel in the town of Keflavík or one of the neighboring towns of Njarðvík or Vogar, from where taxi fare would be considerably cheaper.

Fly Bus airport transfers also run regularly from Reykjavík and are generally scheduled around flights.

“This will be a good dinner table story one day,” Macey captioned the video. Read more on getting around Iceland.

 

Are there truck driving jobs in Iceland?

The local milk truck drving across the winding roads of the Westfjords

Iceland does not have a particularly large market or demand for land transport. Simply put, it’s a small nation, and as an island, much of the important goods already arrive in Reykjavík, the largest urban centre in the nation.

These 2022 statistics show, for instance, that transportation and storage account for some 13,000 jobs in Iceland, or about 5.3% of overall jobs. Note that this will also include things like warehouse work, tour buses, city buses, and taxi drivers as well. Statistics Iceland breaks these categories down differently, and land transportation does not even register on their index of major national industries.

Driver’s license

Nevertheless, there is some trucking in Iceland, especially in agriculture and parcel delivery. You will, of course, need the relevant class of driver’s license in order to work as a truck driver. Below are listed the basic classes of driver’s licenses in Iceland. Note that each class has several additional subclasses, which are determined by the size of the engine, the overall weight of the vehicle, and whether it will tow a trailer.

  • Class A: Motorcycles.
  • Class B: Passenger vehicles.
  • Class C: Trucks and commercial vehicles.
  • Class D: Buses and other transit vehicles.

Due to the size of Iceland’s tourism industry, if you are on the job market and have a commercial driver’s license, working as a tour bus driver may also be a good fit for you. Note, however, that this will require a class D license, whereas trucking would require a class C license. Read more about the regulations here (in Icelandic).

Job hunting

Iceland’s not alone in the world in being a society where it often comes down to who you know. That being said, there’s always a demand for skilled and hard-working people, so here are some places to begin looking.

You can search the phonebook, Já, for businesses that specialize in transportation. It may be worth simply cold-calling many of them.

You may also find Alfreð helpful, a popular job board in Iceland. Try searching “bílstjóri óskast” (driver wanted).

Störf is also another job board that you may find useful.

 

Landing on Frozen Lake Led to Fatal Crash

plane crash

It is not clear whether the pilot of a plane that sank in Þingvallavatn in 2022 landed on the frozen lake intentionally or not. The landing is believed to be the cause of the accident, however. The crash resulted in the death of the pilot and all three passengers, who were all content creators or influencers. The Aircraft Accident Investigation Board published its extensive report on the incident this morning.

Over 1,000 took part in search

On February 3, 2022, a Cessna 172N aircraft went missing in Iceland after setting off on a two-hour sight-seeing trip with three passengers. Over 1,100 people took part in an intensive search operation that eventually located the plane in Þingvallavatn lake. The deceased were identified as Icelandic pilot Haraldur Diego and three passengers from the US, Netherlands, and Belgium: John Neuman (22), Tim Alings (27), and Nicola Bellavia (32). The bodies and the wreckage were eventually recovered from the lake.

Drowning was cause of death

“The cause of the accident is attributed to the intentional or unintentional landing on the frozen lake, as the ice did not support the weight of the aircraft, the aircraft broke through it and crashed into the lake,” the report summary reads. The bodies of all of the deceased were recovered at some distance from the aircraft, indicating that they had tried to swim to land. It was unlikely that they would have been able to do so, however, at the water temperature was around freezing and the distance too great. Autopsy results indicated that drowning was their cause of death.

Content creation a factor in crash

According to the report, the pilot knew the area well and had often landed on frozen lakes or flown over them at low altitude in order to facilitate photography. The board expressed their belief that “it is likely that the purpose of the flight, to create reality content, was a factor in the pilot lowering the flight over the lake.”

Investigation of the aircraft revealed that it had sufficient fuel and did not reveal anything that could explain the cause of the crash. The aircraft did not contain a “black box,” as such equipment is not standard on Cessna 172N models.

Recommendations for future prevention

The board made several recommendations to authorities in order to prevent similar accidents occurring in the future. They include implementing ADS-B transmitters in all manned aircraft flying in Icelandic airspace, as well as directing pilots to respect flight rules regarding minimum altitude and to avoid landing outside runways without ensuring that conditions are safe.

The Board’s reports are, by law, intended to shed light on the cause of accidents for the purpose of future prevention and not to apportion blame or responsibility. They are not to be used as evidence in court proceedings.

Parking in Reykjavík

Parking meter in Reykjavík

In Reykjavík, there are four parking zones: P1, P2, P3, and P4. You can see which zone you are in by the blue signs with a white “P” and its corresponding zone number. Each has its own prices and payment periods. You can see the parking zones in the city centre on this map, and their prices here below.

Street parking in Reykjavík: prices and chargeable hours

Zone P1 (Red and pink)

  • ISK 600 [$4.35, €4] per hour
  • 9 AM–9 PM on weekdays and 10 AM–9 PM on weekends 
  • Maximum 3 hours

Zone P2 (Blue)

  • ISK 220 [$1.60, €1.47] per hour
  • 9 AM–9 PM on weekdays and 10 AM–9 PM on weekends 

Zone P3 (Green)

  • ISK 220 [$1.60, €1.47] per hour for the first two hours 
  • ISK 65 for each additional hour
  • 9 AM to 6 PM on weekdays

Zone P4 (Orange)

  • ISK 220 [$1.60, €1.47] per hour
  • 8 AM to 4 PM on weekdays

Street parking is free of charge on the following holidays:

New Year’s Day, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Easter Monday, First Day of Summer, May 1, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, Whitmonday, June 17, Merchants Day, Christmas Day and December 26.

Reykjavík Hallgrímskirkja church
Photo: Skólavörðustígur Street in Reykjavík City.

Parking garages in Reykjavík: prices and hours

Parking garages are open daily from 7 AM to midnight.

Garages at Stjörnuport (Laugavegur St. 86-90) and Vitatorg (Skúlagata St. 22)

  • ISK 180 [$1.30, €1.20] for the first hour
  • ISK 120 [$0.87, €0.80] each additional hour 

Garages at Kolaport (Kalofnsvegur Rd. 3), Ráðhús City Hall, Traðarkot (Hverfisgata St. 20) and Vesturgata St. 7

  • ISK 260 [$1.90, €1.75] for the first hour
  • ISK 130 [$0.94, €0.87] for each additional hour

If you leave your car past opening hours, you will continue paying the hourly fee, even though the garage is closed for access.

Paying for parking in Reykjavík

You may use coins, debit/credit cards, or digital wallets to pay through parking meters. You can also pay online on the Reykjavík Parking Authority’s website. Lastly, you can pay with a parking app on your phone. Note that some meters may not accept coins.

  • Tickets bought in Zone P1 are valid for all zones. 
  • Tickets bought in Zone P2 are valid in zones P2, P3, and P4
  • Tickets bought in Zone P3 are only valid in Zone P3
  • Tickets bought in Zone P4 are only valid in Zone P4

Paying with a parking app

You can pay using parking apps such as EasyPark and Parka. These apps can be used for any parking zone or garage in Reykjavík. You simply input your licence plate number and the zone in which you are located to activate the timer, and then check out once you are done using the space. The fee is prorated and paid through the app. The apps include a map of the zones, making finding the less expensive ones easier.

Parka map Reykjavík
Photo: In parking apps, you can see which parking zone you’re located in.

I got a parking fine in Iceland; what do I do?

Parking tickets in Iceland are electronic, meaning you will not find a paper ticket on your windshield. The car’s licence plate will be traced to your car rental company, which will notify you and provide payment instructions. If you receive a parking ticket, you can pay it here. Familiarising yourself with Icelandic parking signs can help you avoid getting a fine. Keep in mind that street parking and garages are not meant for campers or motorhomes; those must be parked at campsites. Remember that in Iceland, you must park in the direction of traffic.


A Guide to Reykjavík Airport

Reykjavík Airport.

Although Iceland is not the biggest country in terms of surface area, travelling between the south, west, north, and east can take a deceivingly long time. This is mostly due to the endless fjords and peninsulas you’ll weave through on the way. While these are quite often a sight for sore eyes, sometimes, you just don’t have the time or ability to make the journey. In these cases, domestic flights are a lifesaver, and, as luck would have it, there’s a domestic flight airport smack dab in the middle of Reykjavík: Reykjavík Airport. It’s been a topic of much debate due to its close proximity to residential areas, but for now, it’s here to help you explore Iceland in the quickest way possible. 

 

Airlines, destinations, and pricing

Three airlines fly from Reykjavík Airport, each to different towns and villages in Iceland. Icelandair flies to Akureyri in the north, Egilsstaðir in the east, Ísafjörður on the Westfjords, and Vestmannaeyjar islands in the south. Eagle Air (look for Flugfélagið Ernir on search engines) flies to Höfn in Hornafjörður in the southeast, and Norlandair flies to Bíldurdalur and Gjögur on the Westfjords, as well as Nerlerit Inaat in Greenland. Additionally, should none of the flight times or destinations meet your needs, Mýflug Air offers charter flights tailored to your plans.

This wide range of destinations allows a full and free exploration of Iceland for those who don’t have the time, desire, or capability to drive between the different parts of the country. Keep in mind that, as with most things in Iceland, airline tickets are probably quite a bit more expensive than what you’re used to. Prices for a one-way ticket range anywhere from ISK 14,000 [$99, €92] to 60,000 [$424, €395], depending on demand and location. To avoid the highest prices, book your tickets well in advance.

A group of people coming off an aeroplane at Akureyri Airport.
Photo: Golli. A group of people coming off an aeroplane at Akureyri Airport.

How to get to Reykjavík Airport

There are several ways to get to the airport. Firstly, with a walking distance of about 30 minutes from the city centre, there’s the option of going on foot. On a nice day, it’s a beautiful walk that will take you past Vatnsmýrin Nature Reserve, a small, protected moorland with 83 different plant species and plenty of birds. It’s equally pretty in winter as it is in summer, with the colder temperatures luring mystical-looking steam from the water.

If you don’t have a lot of luggage, you could also rent an e-scooter from Hopp. This is a great way to travel quickly and easily between locations while also enjoying the city. They have a pay-per-minute system, so depending on how far away you are, it might even be cheaper than taking the bus. Simply download the Hopp app, rent a scooter, and ride to the airport. Once you get there, you can park the scooter on the edge of the sidewalk and leave it for somebody else. 

A third option is to use Strætó, the public transport system which will take you almost to the door of the airport. Bus number 15 stops in a one-minute walking distance from the airport. If you haven’t been using Strætó, the best thing to do is download Klappið app, where you can purchase a single fair. For up-to-date pricing, see Strætó’s official pricing page. It is also possible to pay with cash, but as the drivers don’t have any change, you’ll have to have the exact amount to avoid paying more than you’re supposed to. 

Buses number 6, 4, and 15 at Hlemmur bus stop.
Buses number 6, 4, and 15 at Hlemmur bus stop.

If you have a rental car that you’re not dropping off before your flight, you can park it by the airport for a fee. The parking system uses automatic number plate recognition, which means that the system will calculate how much you owe based on the time you entered and exited the parking lot. To pay, you’ll need to create an account with Autopay. You should do this within 48 hours of exiting, or a late fee of ISK 1.490 [$10, €10] will be added to your charge. 

Lastly, there’s the option of taking a taxi. This is the most hassle-free way, allowing you to enjoy your journey without having to make any additional transportation plans, but note that taking a taxi in Iceland is very expensive. A 5 km trip within the city during the daytime will likely cost at least ISK 2,666 [$19, €18], or about four times the amount you would pay for a bus ticket.

How much luggage can you bring?

As for many international flights, on domestic flights in Iceland, 20 kg is a common maximum weight for checked-in bags and 6 kg for handbags. This will, of course, depend on the airline you’re flying with, so make sure to familiarize yourself with their rules. Security restrictions on what is allowed in hand luggage are similar to international flights, meaning that firearms, clubs, sharp tools, and anything else that could be considered a weapon are not allowed. However, you are allowed to travel with liquids. For a full list of restricted items, visit Isavia’s baggage information page

How long before departure should you arrive?

Seeing that the airport is a fraction of the size of Keflavík Airport, arriving to check in about 60 minutes before your departure is sufficient. The aeroplanes used to fly domestic flights are smaller than those used for international flights, and the amount of flights taking off and landing is far smaller than at Keflavík. This means that there are fewer people going through, leading to a less busy airport. There are also just two terminals, so you there’s no chance of getting lost and missing your flight. 

Reykjavík Airport from above.
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík Airport from above.

Are there food and beverages at Reykjavík Airport?

At the time of writing, the airport’s cafeteria is temporarily closed. However, there are a few vending machines where you can purchase food and coffee. Domestic flights generally do not offer food and beverages aboard, but if you think you might get hungry on the way, bringing your own refreshments – food and drink – is perfectly fine.  

Special assistance and hidden disabilities

Should you require a wheelchair or special assistance, please contact the airline you’re travelling with beforehand. This will allow them to plan ahead and make any necessary arrangements for your arrival. 

If you have a hidden disability, you can opt to wear the sunflower lanyard to make the journey as comfortable as possible. Airport staff are aware that passengers wearing them might need more time, patience, and understanding, and they will be happy to help you make your journey easier. If you don’t already have one, lanyards are available at the check-in desks in the departure hall and at the information desk in the arrival hall. 

Private flights

In addition to domestic flights flights and flights to Greenland, Reykjavík Airport is a common stopover for private jets. Due to Iceland’s convenient location in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s the ideal place to refuel your plane or divide up the journey between Europe and the United States. With its close proximity to Reykjavík city centre, it’s easy to hop off for a few hours to explore the attractions of the city or grab a bite at one of its exceptional restaurants before heading off again. 

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 years ago.

Iceland ranks among the safer countries in Europe when it comes to road safety, and the accident rate has declined steadily over the last couple of decades due to road improvements and safer cars. The deadliest year of this century was in 2000, when 32 people died in traffic. In comparison, nine people died in traffic collisions in all of 2023.

But as tourism increases beyond pre-pandemic levels, and more and more cars hit the often-icy roads, authorities are looking for new ways to ensure motorist safety. In addition to costing lives, traffic collisions incur an estimated ISK 40 billion [$289 million, €268 million] in costs for Icelandic society as a whole. In order to tackle the issue, the Ministry of Infrastructure adopted a 15-year road safety plan last year. Focusing on the three principles of safer motorists, safer roads, and safer vehicles, the plan aims to make Iceland one of the top five European nations in traffic safety by decreasing the number of deaths and serious injuries by 5% every year until 2038. Additionally, the plan aims to reduce collision-related costs during this period.

Not zero yet

When introducing the plan last year, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, said that Iceland should aspire to reach the same levels of road safety as it has for safety at sea. “We must always look to decrease the number of accidents, prevent pain, and minimise societal cost,” he said. “With increased investment in road infrastructure, we can adopt a Vision Zero policy like many of our peer nations.”

traffic safety iceland

Vision Zero is a multi-national road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a system with no fatalities or serious injuries. Instead of a cost-benefit analysis, where monetary value is placed on life and health, Vision Zero is based on the principle that “life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society.” The project was first adopted in Sweden in 1997, where traffic fatalities have steadily decreased despite an increase in traffic. It has since been implemented in various cities and countries across the globe. With Vision Zero, speed limits are lowered, especially in urban areas, as collisions at lower speeds are less likely to cause serious harm.

The new Icelandic road safety plan does not adopt Vision Zero, as a 5% decrease in the number of deaths and serious injuries would still leave room for some 80 such cases per year at the tail end of the plan in 2038. However, the plan includes benchmarks in the spirit of Vision Zero, such as no traffic fatalities among children under 14 or due to lack of seat belt use.

Unfamiliar conditions

Car rental companies in Iceland announced record profits in 2022 as tourism resurged following the lifting of COVID restrictions. At the same time, the number of rental cars available in Iceland reached an all-time high. Tourist numbers have bounced back from pandemic lows and are expected to break the previous annual record this year, with a steady rise projected in the coming years.

This increase in drivers on the roads brings new challenges. Iceland’s roads can become dangerous due to sudden shifts in weather. Additionally, snowfall and fog can blind drivers, while low temperatures can cause roads to become slippery. As many tourists are not used to driving in these conditions, authorities are concerned that without proper information, they can end up in harm’s way. Locals themselves are also not immune to the difficulties of these circumstances, even on safer urban roads. In January, for example, traffic chaos ensued in Reykjavík when a power outage coincided with a snowstorm. Dozens of collisions were reported, thankfully none involving serious injuries.

traffic safety iceland

In some cases, car rental companies have taken it upon themselves to advise tourists on road safety. Common advice includes heeding wind and weather warnings, informing them that headlights must be on at all times according to law (even during daytime), being careful on single-lane bridges, keeping an eye out for sheep on the road, slowing down when approaching gravel roads, and never stopping on the side of the road to take photos, especially on the busy Ring Road that circles the island. Off-road driving is also illegal in Iceland. Both residents and visitors have put themselves in danger by driving off road, not to mention the environmental harm and punitive repercussions of driving illegally on precarious soil.

Goals for foreign drivers

The road safety plan also seeks to decrease serious collisions involving travellers from abroad. “Foreign tourists in Iceland often find themselves in conditions that are alien to them and can therefore face trouble while driving,” the road safety plan reads. “In order to decrease the likelihood that they become involved in an accident, we need to inform them about the uniqueness of Icelandic traffic and Icelandic roads, while encouraging them to use seat belts, observe the legal speed limits, and follow other rules that are in place here.”

traffic safety iceland

The plan also includes a segment on providing migrant motorists with information on Icelandic traffic rules, as they may differ from what applies in their home countries. Driving licences issued by member states of the European Economic Area, which includes the European Union, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Iceland, are recognised and valid in Iceland, even if the motorists have had no training or experience with the subarctic conditions with which new Icelandic drivers must familiarise themselves. The plan also notes that migrants who don’t speak Icelandic should be accommodated when it comes to educational and preventive material on traffic safety.

Public transport, private responsibility

Lastly, the slow but ongoing process of improving public transport in Iceland should gradually make roads safer by decreasing the number of cars on the roads. Borgarlínan, a Bus Rapid Transit system for the greater capital area, is in the works and is expected to decrease congestion on roads in the city as its population continues to grow, while having a positive environmental impact. Buses also service most rural areas and remain an economical option for travel outside the city limits.

traffic safety iceland

The bottom line, however, is that most traffic accidents are caused by human error. Most of them take place in urban areas, but the more dangerous – and sometimes deadly – ones tend to happen in the countryside where speed limits are higher, trips are longer, and driver attention is more likely to waver. “It is therefore important,” the road safety plan states, “that our behaviour in traffic is in accordance with rules and in tune with conditions so everyone gets home safely.”