Iceland driving weather varies drastically from season to season. In the summer the roads are fine, by and large, though you should still check the weather before heading to the highlands. In the winter, they clear the roads, especially the ones between major towns but this can take time and so certain roads can be snowed out from time to time. Smaller roads may not be cleared at all. Highland roads tend to be completely closed in winter, and in order to get there, you would have to hire a professional with a modified truck. Check the road authorities’ website for current, up to date information.
Summer Driving in Iceland
- Most roads should be fine but check the weather forecast if you intend to head towards the mountains.
- In summer, the days are long. Make sure you get your rest and don’t keep driving for too long. A tired driver can be as unsafe as a drunk driver! Stop the car at regular intervals and if you feel tired, change drivers or, if that’s not an option, take a 15-minute nap to refresh your mind and body.
- Iceland’s midnight sun means that the sun doesn’t really go down. It does, however, sit low in the sky so when driving late at night, be sure to wear sunglasses and take limited visibility into consideration.
Autumn Driving in Iceland
- Autumn isn’t a long season in Iceland, we basically have a summer that starts to fade out until all of a sudden, it’s winter, but for that short period, there are some things to look out for, such as autumn storms.
- These can usually be predicted with accuracy so CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST in the morning before you set off.
- If you’re not sure what the conditions on your intended route are like, you can call the Icelandic Roads and Coastal Administration information centre (+354) 1777. They also have some useful information on their website – www.road.is.
Winter Driving in Iceland
- In the winter, be prepared for ice on the roads. (If you’re not comfortable driving on ice, you probably shouldn’t rent a car in winter. There are many tours you can take instead.)
- Rule number 1: SLOW DOWN. The “top legal speed” assumes perfect conditions. If it’s snowy, windy, rainy, foggy, icy etc., SLOW DOWN. It’s better to get there late than to not get there at all.
- STAY HOME: If the road is closed, don’t go. If there is a storm warning, don’t go. If you don’t want to spend your holiday in the city, take a tour instead, those guys are professionals and have experience with driving in winter.
- Remember, if you’re not sure about conditions, call (+354) 1777.
- When driving, make no sudden changes: braking, turning and accelerating should be smooth. Slamming the brakes is probably your reflex when you feel the car start to slide, but that only makes things worse unless you have ABS brakes (see below). Brake gently and steer into the slide.
- Increased braking distance – it will take you much longer to break. Take that into consideration.
- DO YOUR BRAKES LOCK? One of the best ways to find this out is to just try them out in safe conditions. If you have ABS (anti-lock brakes) you should break by slamming down on the brakes, the system takes care of the rest. If you don’t have ABS, you should tap your brakes on and off quickly while steering away from danger.
- Alternate steering and braking – if you don’t have ABS, sometimes braking means you can’t steer. Often the best thing to do is simply release the accelerator and steer around the danger before slowly breaking.
- It might not look icy: In Iceland, we have something we call “launhált” – secret slipperiness. It might not look icy but still be very slippery. Test out your brakes from time to time.
The emergency number in Iceland is 112. For more information see www.safetravel.is
Spring Driving in Iceland
- In the springtime, frost is leaving the ground, so take special care when driving on gravel roads.
- Make sure you watch out for icy roads, especially in the morning!
- If the streets are icy, know that wet ice is more slippery than when it’s completely frozen, so take special care!
- On rural roads, you might have to look out for sheep. If you see a sheep on the road, slow down. If the lamb is on the other side of the road from the mother, it will sometimes run over the road, so give them plenty of time to clear the road before you drive past.
- (If you do hit a lamb, do the right thing and let the farmer know.)