12.07.2013

Driving on gravel roads in Iceland

Drivers need to be aware of a few things before driving on the more rugged roads in Iceland. Here are a few tips and tools to review before taking off on your journey.

       
                     Photos by Wikimedia Commons and The Gorge respectively. 
 
Gravel roads are just a pain aren’t they? They are not smooth and comfortable to drive on like the asphalt roads, no instead your hands are shaking while holding the wheel and the sounds of car meeting gravel is interrupting your favorite song. If it does not sound familiar then get ready as chances are you will have to drive a little on them if you plan to drive in Iceland.
 
The so called ring road (number 1), which is 1.332 kilometers, still has approx. 20% kilometers of gravel roads. That is not counting all the F-roads in the highlands and the secondary country roads. To give you an example on the gravel roads in Iceland, check out the video below by Marissyt.
 
 
 
Many of the gravel roads are good, solid roads but unfortunately some of them are not in good shape. Many of them have rocks sticking out and potholes and are sometimes called washboard in Icelandic, for good reason. We had a talk with some local experts and our SAD travelers and used our own experience to map out the worst gravel roads in Iceland. The black roads on the map are main roads and yellow roads are secondary roads (please note that main roads can be gravel roads). You can see the worst roads on the below map in red as well as the number of each road in the list below. We advise you to take extra caution when driving on these red roads.
 
 
Road #711. Vatnsnes. 
Road #54. Skógarströnd from Stykkishólmur village to Dalir area. 
Southern part of the Western fjords. Road #60 (from Bjarkalundur), road #62 Barðaströnd
Road #862. Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss (from the east).
Road #26. Sultartangi to Galtalækur. 
Road #745. Skagaheiði. 
 
This list is not exhaustive so if you know of a washboard gravel road we forgot I would love to hear about it! Of course, all gravel roads such as F roads and country roads (secondary roads) should be driven on with great care as well.
 
 
How to drive on gravel roads
Drivers always have to be aware behind the wheel but even more so on gravel roads. A lot of accidents in Iceland happen on gravel roads because people are not used to them. It is important to remember that you will not be able to apply the same driving skills that you use on asphalt roads! Many drivers underestimate the circumstances and overestimate their own driving ability, sometimes with bad results.
 
Lets check out some useful tips when driving on these roads. Most accidents on gravel roads happen because: 1) Drivers drive too fast, 2) Narrow roads and 3) Blindrises.
  
1)        2)               3) 
 
1) The End of tarred road sign above tells you that the end of the tarred road is near. The maximum speed limit on gravel roads is 80 km per hour. Most accidents on gravel roads happen when drivers are switching from asphalt to gravel. There is a risk of losing control of the car so reduce your speed when you see the sign above. The surface of gravel roads is loose, especially on the sides, so it is best to slow down when you approach a car ahead. You are also in more risk of getting a flat tire if driving too fast on gravel roads and hit a rock, it is simply best to drive slow on gravel roads!
 
2) The gravel roads are usually more narrow than other roads. Sometimes, you need to think about oncoming traffic and find places to pass them. Again, driving slow is key here as it will make the process smoother as well as help prevent accidents caused by rocks thown in every and all directions.
 
3) There are a lot of blind rises in Iceland and a lot of them are on gravel roads. Just make sure you keep to the right when crossing them and, again, slow down. You never know what might be around the bend, animals for instance.
 
The Road Traffic directorate has made a good video on how to drive in Iceland with useful tips for driving in on gravel roads. You can view it below in English but it is also available in German, Spanish and French
 
 
So, what does all this mean for our SADcars drivers? Well, you can usually drive your rental on all gravel roads except the ones marked F, they are highland roads and should only be driven on 4x4 vehicles and are only open over the high summer.

Please be aware that off-road driving in strictly forbidden by law in Iceland as it damages nature for decades. If the road does not have a number, do not drive on it, even if there are tire tracks. Those who drive off-road will be heavily fined by police.
 
SADcars offers Gravel proctection insurance for 10 euros per day. This insurance covers the Lessee for damages caused by gravel on the windshield, headlights and body of the car. Also, bear in mind that the SADcars are older cars and might already have a few dents and scratches on them so we are not as concerned with a small scratch as if the cars were new. When you pick up the car, we will walk with you around the car to mark the rental agreement with all dents and scratches that are already on the car. The gravel protection does not cover you for unsafe driving on gravel roads so please drive safe. 
 
As always we welcome all tips you might have regarding driving on gravel roads in Iceland. If you have an experience you would like to share with us, feel free to do so at info@sadcars.com
 
Be well and drive safe friends!
Signy
 
 
Sources and useful information: 
Icelandic met office – Weather forecast
 
 

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