Monday, 6 May 2019

Icelandic Road Signs and What They Mean

Driving in Iceland will be a new experience for you in many ways. From the unpaved F-roads of the Highlands to the sometimes snowy road conditions, you’ll definitely encounter something unexpected. While driving safety is a primary concern, there is another important one. Recognizing Icelandic road signs and knowing what they mean can help you stay away from tricky situations or even avoid an accident. If you’re not familiar with them, here are some common road signs in Iceland and their meanings.

Road sign in Iceland showing the speed limits and road rules

The Speed Limit in Iceland 


During your trip, the maximum speed is 90 km/h (55 mph) on paved roads in rural areas. It lowers to 80 km/h (50 mph) on unpaved ones in the same kind of zones. Once you get close towns, villages, cities, or any other type of inhabited area, you have to slow down to 50 km/h (30 mph).

When looking at the road sign in the picture above, you’ll see a kind of table for the speed limit. Across the top, there’s a yellow and black column for urban areas and then two with a red stripe representing rural areas. Below those are the symbols for gravel roads (with the little rocks flying) and paved roads. And notice that on the left, passengers must always wear their seatbelts. The car’s headlights must also be on at all times.

Single lane bridge (Einbreið Brú)  sign in Iceland

Single Lane Bridge (Einbreið Brú) 


If you’re circumnavigating Iceland on the island’s Ring Road, most of what you’ll find is a single, two-lane highway. There’s one lane for cars moving in each direction, and you’ll have to be careful when passing or overtaking. Oncoming vehicles on blind hills or blind curves can be quite dangerous.

There are some single-lane bridges (Einbreið Brú) in the country, and you’ll see this sign when coming upon on them. The protocol is that whichever vehicle is closet to the bridge has the right of way and gets to pass first. The car, camper, motorhome, or truck coming from the opposite direction should pull over to let the other vehicle cross the bridge first.

Single lane tunnel (Einbreid Göng) sign in Iceland

Single Lane Tunnel (Einbreid Göng) 


Single lane tunnels in Iceland (Einbreid Göng) are very similar to single lane bridges. It can become quite a sticky situation if both vehicles enter the bridge or the tunnel at the same time. As you can imagine, it’s best to avoid this scenario. The safety protocol for this situation is exactly the same as for bridges. Slow down, pull to the right, and let the other vehicle go through the tunnel before you.

Malbik Endar road sign in Iceland where paved road changes to gravel

Málbik Endar (Paved Road Changing to Gravel) 


While 97% of the Ring Road is paved, there are parts where it changes to gravel for a bit. You need to be warned about this in advance so you have the necessary time needed to brake and slow down. Not only is the speed limit slower than on paved roads, but the sudden surface change could easily cause you to lose control of your vehicle if you don’t approach at a slower speed.

Iceland road sign warning about sheep

Watch Out For Sheep 


We love our sheep here in Iceland. So much so that we let them roam freely. This becomes a problem for foreign drivers who may not be used to sheep blocking the road or darting out into traffic. When you see this sign, it means to be on high alert for sheep. Slow down and be vigilant, as sometimes the sound of an approaching motor will cause the sheep to suddenly run out into the road.

It won’t just be a tragic accident either. You’ll have to pay the cost of our now deceased wooly little friend to the farmer who owned it.

Road Signs in the Highlands 


Iceland’s Highlands have an unusual terrain that requires a special type of vehicle for precarious conditions. Even after you’ve rented a 4x4, there are still some obstacles on your path while driving. Buckle up; there are difficult roads ahead.

Obruadar ar Icelandic road sign warning about unbridged rivers in the Highlands

River Crossings with No Bridge (Óbrúadar Ár) 


This is something unique to Iceland’s Highlands. The country’s F-roads feature endless kilometers of unpaved, gravel roads that take you in and around the mountains. There are also parts of our wild backcountry that are wide, open spaces with nothing but you and dramatic backdrop of jaw-dropping Icelandic scenery.

You’ll see the Óbrúadar Ár sign as you’re approaching a river with no bridge. Be very careful with these types of crossings. We all have our Jumanji dreams of fording a river Oregon Trail style. But the reality is that if we get too far underwater, the engine gets flooded and the car stops, possibly permanently. It’s an expensive repair not covered under any type of rental insurance.


Difficult Terrain (Seinfarinn Vegur) 

The roads in Iceland’s Highlands are already tricky. So when you see the sign for difficult terrain (Seinfarinn vegur or Torleidi), you know you got something coming. The road surface will be extremely difficult, even if your car rental is a 4x4 SUV, and it's going to be a bit complicated to drive. As always, exercise caution, drive safely and use good sense. Icelandic roads definitely provide a challenge, and these ones especially so.

Whenever you encounter difficult road conditions, avoid jerking your steering wheel around and try to keep your movements smooth.

Icelandic Road Signs and What They Mean

Now that you’re armed with a little more information about road signs Iceland, you’ll be able to have a safer, more enjoyable trip. Road conditions are probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Now you’ve got the knowledge to help you drive safely in Iceland. And as they say, knowledge is power.

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