Driving in Iceland – Part Four
On the road:
There are several things to know if you drive in Iceland. Most importantly, yourspeed is monitored by cameras. At first I thought – what the hell is this, a police state? But then I began to appreciate the lack of assholeness that defines driving in California. Nobody in Iceland was cutting me off, tailgating, or generally acting likea jerk. And you know what? It was a whole lot less stressful. There’s still the odd jackass, most likely a privileged idiot in an expensive car from a western country where people act like that, but in general, 98% of the drivers are nice, and more importantly, safe.
We never saw a single cop on the road, but I’ve heard stories of whopping fines as a
result of the cameras. If you’d like to learn more about speed limits, fines, and how they’re administered, visit http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2012/11/reykjavik-basics-how-to-avoid-speeding-tickets-in-iceland/
Most roads are two lane highways with no shoulders. Stay alert to oncoming traffic,stay in your lane, and DO NOT EVER EVEN ONCE stop in the middle of the road or on the non-existent shoulder to take pictures or for any other reason. Find a turnout. People won’t anticipate or sometimes even see you until it’s too late, and they’ll be traveling at high speeds.
You have to share the bridges. Most are only one lane. Both sides will have a turnout somewhere in the middle for cars on each side to wait their turns, and people typically communicate with hand signals or other polite gestures like flashing their lights. Sharing isn’t so hard. It actually feels pretty good.
Most of the Ring Road is paved, butsome of it is hard-pack gravel. Many secondary roads are dirt. We were traveling in July, when rain is scant and days are long, so it wasn’t a problem, but sometimes the short cuts and alternate routes can be a bit thrilling. One steep drive down the side of a glacier gave us all white knuckles. We said a few foxhole prayers but we made it ok.
We never had to forge a river, but we saw people doing it in various vehicles to get to smaller towns. If I had to, I’d probably wait and watch a local do it first, but I didtake the time to read about how to handle river crossings in a vehicle. If you’ve only driven on pavement your whole life, you might consider taking an off-road driving class before your trip, but if you take your time and be careful, your biggest concern will be avoiding whiplash from trying to take in all the scenery.
Watch out for wild horses and nomadic sheep. It’s their world, you’re just visiting.We took six days to travel the Ring Road, but I’d recommend ten or more. It wouldhave been much nicer to do more walking since there were so many cool places. It seemed like the moment you got out of your car you were in the wilderness. The sounds, smells, colors, vistas, peacefulness, wild hot springs and general wonderfulness of this epic land make it well worth taking your sweet time to see it.
The last suggestion I’d make is to familiarize yourself with the rental car drop off point at the airport, especially if you picked up your car in town. The drop-off areas are mostly off site and it can be confusing. It was the only time we got lost, and even though my wife was right and I was wrong, I’ll never admit it, ‘cause that’s what dudes do.
I hope this helps you decide how to travel in Iceland. My next post about Iceland will be about Akureyri, the northernmost and second largest city in Iceland.