Why Iceland Has The Lowest Speed Limit In Europe

Blue car rental driving in Iceland.
Iceland's volcanic terrain shapes its roads. (Mathaus)

Nothing beats taking on the open road and exploring Iceland at your own pace while sitting comfortably in a rental car that can take you wherever your heart desires. Yet, in this land of unparalleled beauty, where freedom knows no bounds, it's the rules of the road that shape the rhythm of your adventure.

Iceland, a realm of otherworldly view and inspiring nature, stands as a living testament to the melding of human endeavor and untamed wilderness. A tapestry of lush valleys, towering mountains, and cascading waterfalls awaits those who dare to travel its winding roads.

But as you set out on your epic road trip, there's one unique fact of Icelandic driving that sets it apart from the rest of Europe – the country's remarkably low speed limits.

Let's go over the speed limit in Iceland and find out why it is Europe's lowest speed limit.

What is The Speed limit in Iceland

When renting a car in a foreign country it is important to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road before heading out for a road trip. There are speed limits in Iceland which drivers must follow and respect.

The road speed limit in Iceland differs from where you drive and on what kind of road. On the streets of Reykjavik and other population areas the general speed limit is 50 km/h (31 mi/h). But be aware that it reduces to 30 km/h (18 mi/h) in some areas such as neighborhoods and other residential areas.

Yet, it's on the highways where Iceland's distinctive character truly shines. As you cruise through the wild expanses that define this land, you'll notice a stark contrast to continental Europe's fast lanes.

The general road speed in Iceland is 90 km/h. A far cry from the 120 km/h or more common in other parts of Europe. But rest assured, this restraint is purposeful.

Speed limit sign in Iceland on the ring road.
90km/h is the general speed limit on Icelandic roads such as the Ring Road.

Gravel roads in Iceland´s highland and other rural areas

Please note that 90 km/h is the maximum speed allowed on motorways in Iceland and applies for paved highways in the best driving conditions.

This does not apply for all roads within Iceland's main road system. On gravel roads the maximum speed limit is 80 km/h. This includes rural roads as well as parts on the Ring Road.

The same goes for other gravel roads and highland roads, like the F-roads. Although drivers might not reach the speed limit as driving conditions, on roads such as Kjalvegur, Sprengisandsleid and Kaldidalur, will most likely require a much slower pace.

Why is the speed limit so low in Iceland?

The roads in Iceland bear witness to the island's tumultuous geologic history. While the Ring Road and popular routes like the Golden Circle beckon with their paved roads, the intrinsic nature of Iceland's terrain shapes its infrastructure.

Most major routes boast only two narrow lanes going in opposite directions, and the landscape's undulating contours make for roads less traveled.

The roads themselves, sinuous and unpredictable, mirror the very essence of Iceland's spirit and rugged landscape. Through mountain passes and lava-laden byways, each turn unveils another chapter of its captivating landscape .Taking roads up mountains, through lava fields, passing glaciers, waterfalls and other amazing natural wonders.

This makes cutting across the country and maintaining high speed incredibly difficult. Iceland's low speed limits foster an environment of safety and mindfulness.

Drivers must always pay attention to the road. This is as important in winter as it is during summer. As snow blankets the roads in winter and sheep wander the open expanse in summer, drivers are tasked with a dual responsibility.

So, while 90 km/h might sound like a low speed limit, which it is compared to most other countries, there is a very good reason for it in Iceland. Road conditions in Iceland simply do not offer higher speed in order to ensure safe driving.

Driving past glacier in Vatnajökull national park in Iceland.
Witness wonders such as Vatnajökull Glaicer on your Iceland Road Trip. (Mathaus)

What happens if I go over the speed limit in Iceland?

Speeding through Iceland's landscapes not only endangers lives but also robs travelers of the chance to immerse themselves fully in the nation's splendor. The authorities vigilantly monitor road speeds, and with fines that reflect the severity of the transgression, exceeding the limit becomes an untenable gamble.

All over Iceland , even in remote areas outside of Reykjavik are speeding cameras which catch anyone going over the speed limit as soon as they pass by. So be aware that Iceland's roads are being watched closely and it is extremely costly to get caught driving over the speed limit.

In addition to being dangerous, you also lose the opportunity to appreciate the journey and the stunning landscapes of Iceland.

Conclusion

Driving in Iceland is an adventure every traveler should experience but it requires caution and full attention from drivers.

So, as you embark on your Icelandic road trip, let the rhythm of the road guide your journey. Embrace the lower speed limits as a gateway to greater connection with the land, its people, and your own sense of wonder. In Iceland, the journey is not simply a means to an end; it is a symphony of discovery, an exploration of both self and surroundings.

While you might have to drive slower in Iceland and anywhere else in Europe. Remember this is like no other place in the world so why rush through it?  A slower pace will only enhance your Iceland experience. Giving you a better chance of seeing more as you take in the country's unique scenery.

Plan your Iceland trip with that in mind. It takes time to travel in Iceland. You can only drive as fast as laws and conditions allow. Remember, in the land of fire and ice, safety and immersion are intertwined.

Savor every moment, for the slower pace allows you to enjoy Iceland even more. Revel in each pause, each detour, and each unexpected vista. The low speed limits are not a hindrance; they are a gift, inviting you to truly experience the essence of Iceland's soul-stirring landscapes.

When in Iceland it is not only about the destination but also the journey getting there.

Please check out our blogs about Driving in Iceland for more content. We also recommend exploring other interesting topics such as Natural wonders and Practical info when planning your next Iceland adventure!

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