The Minimum Driving Age in Iceland
Many travelers to Iceland decide to rent a car during their time here. It’s the most convenient way to travel long distances since Iceland has no trains and very few long-distance buses. There are domestic flights, but it’s much more fun to drive. That way, you can stop at all of the incredible points of interest around the country. But Iceland, just like every other country, has limitations on who can drive and where.
The Driving Age in Iceland
The minimum driving age in Iceland is 17 years. Icelanders have to complete extensive theoretical training before they are able to obtain a learner’s practice permit. For foreigners, if you want to drive here you must have a valid license in your country of residence, but not all licenses are accepted here; I will explain this later. Regarding the driving age of 17, that only applies if you are driving your own car here.
If you are renting a car, for all Icelandic rental companies you must be at least 20 years of age and have held a driving license for at least 12 months. This is for small, compact cars, but the age for renting large SUVs raises to 23. This is worth keeping in mind as there are some places in the country where you can only access with a 4x4 vehicle. If you are under 25 and renting a car, you may have to pay an additional young driver charge. Contact your rental company for information about this.
Can I Drive in Iceland with a UK Licence?
Yes, you can. Foreign driving licenses are valid here so long as they meet certain requirements. The license, if not in English or Icelandic, must be written in Latin characters. That means that licenses written in Arabic or Japanese are not valid. The driving license must also have a license number and a photo of the driver. It must have an issue date and expiry date and have been held for at least one year. If your license does not meet these requirements, you will have to apply for an international driving permit.
To rent a car in Iceland, you must also have a valid credit card. This is so that the rental company can charge you if any damage occurs to the vehicle while it’s under your care. Bring ID when you collect the car too; a passport will suffice.
In Iceland, CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance is mandatory, and for Reykjavík Cars this is included in the rental price. There are additional insurance packages you can purchase, which may be a good idea depending on where you are planning to drive to.
Iceland Driving Laws
There are certain traffic laws that international drivers may not have come across in their home countries, so it’s worth learning about them before you drive here. First of all, we drive on the right side of the road. If you haven’t done that before, know that you’ll probably get used to it fairly quickly, but it does take a lot more focus initially. Secondly, in Iceland, while driving you are required to keep your car headlights on at all times, day and night. Also, know that the drink-driving laws are very strict here. The legal limit is probably much lower than it is in your country, so play it safe and don’t drink at all when you’re planning to drive. Additionally, off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. Icelanders want to protect their natural landscape and if you are caught driving off-road, the fines are heavy.
There are a fair few hazards you could come across while driving in Iceland. Note that Iceland has one of the least developed highway systems in Europe, so most of the highways you drive on will be only two lanes wide. There are even single-lane bridges and tunnels, so stay focused when driving these routes and be considerate of other drivers.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when driving here is the weather. Iceland’s weather is famously unpredictable; we have a saying for it: ‘If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.’ In the winter, spring and autumn, snowstorms and strong winds are common. Check the forecast on the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s website, and only travel when it is safe to do so. Don’t underestimate the power of storms here; they can be very dangerous to drive in. If the Met Office decides that certain areas are unsafe, they will close roads. You can check if your route is clear on http://www.road.is/
Driving on the ring road (Route 1) is straightforward, but if you want to venture into Iceland’s interior, you will have to drive on Iceland’s highland roads or F roads. These are gravel roads that are not as well maintained as Iceland’s highways, so for that reason, only 4x4 vehicles are permitted to drive on them. F roads also often involve river crossings, so large SUVs are recommended if you want to venture into the highlands. The F roads are only accessible from June to September, and their specific opening times depend on weather conditions, so check before you plan your trip.
Since there are so many sheep in Iceland, it’s likely that at some point you will come across a few wandering into the road. If you do have a herd blocking your way, move forward slowly and keep an eye out for darting individuals.
We have all become so familiar with Google Maps that many of us have forgotten how to read a paper map. It would be a good idea, however, to have one when taking a road trip here. In some of the more remote areas of the island, the signal is not great, and the Google Maps data will not always be accurate, depending on when it was last updated. Be sure that Google Maps isn’t leading you onto an F road if you are not in a suitable car for them.
Because the Icelandic language contains several letters that other European languages don’t, such as Þ and Æ, it’s better to copy and paste your destination from a website into Google, rather than typing it. If you don’t include the letters as they are written you may end up in the wrong place. Icelanders are friendly people and most of them speak fantastic English, so if you do become lost, ask for directions and they’ll be happy to help you. Be aware that there is currently one place in Iceland where a toll is charged: Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel, in the north of Iceland. You can read about how to pay the toll in my article here.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.