Car Hire in Iceland: A Guide to Road Safety in Iceland

Travel to more unusual and unique destinations has been on the rise over the past few years, and whilst Iceland still sees around 2 million people visit each year, it doesn’t tend to be topping the list for many people yet. However, it soon could be though. Every year since 1995, the number of visitors has risen and, pandemic aside, it looks like this trend will continue.

With stunning natural sights sitting alongside vibrant cities, friendly residents accompanied by a variety of wildlife and a fluctuating mix of long periods of both darkness and sunlight, Iceland is a land of contrasts. It is due to these contrasts that you may need to be a little more aware of driving rules to ensure you get the most from your trip.

What side of the road do you drive on in Iceland?

Once you have collected your hire car, you are no doubt hoping to set off on an exciting trip that takes in all Iceland has to offer. Just remember that in Iceland, you drive on the right-hand side of the road, overtaking on the left.

However, even though this rule is a relatively easy one to understand, there is one that often keeps tourists on their toes. If you are at a two-lane roundabout, the traffic on the inner lane always has priority over the outer lane. This can and has led to accidents so being aware of this rule is very important.

What are the speed limits in Iceland?

Depending on where you are driving in Iceland will see you need to respect different speed limits. In populated areas, you should not exceed 50 km/h, with the typical speed limits set at 30-50 km/h. Signs will indicate this, so keep an eye out for these.

Once you get onto gravel roads, you can drive at 80 km/h if the area is rural and up to 90 km/h when the road is paved. Be sure to check the signposts, though, as areas can change quickly and if you are caught out, you could be fined. The police are not always present on the roads but speed cameras are, and those speeding are almost always caught by them and subsequently fined.

Do you need to wear a seatbelt while driving in Iceland?

It is a law that all drivers and passengers wear a seatbelt when in a moving vehicle. Young children and infants will be required to use a car seat. You will also not be able to have any child aged 12 or under in the front seat. This is especially worth looking into pre-trip as once you have hired your car, securing a car seat may become a little more difficult.

What are the rules for driving in Iceland?

Aside from the most common questions regarding driving rules in Iceland that we have answered above, there are a few other things worth noting to ensure a safe driving experience. Always keep your lights on when driving in Iceland!

When driving in Iceland, whether it is morning or night, you must always have your headlights on. Remember there are times of the year when darkness covers the land for 20 hours or more, but there are also times between May and July when the sun doesn’t set. Whichever time you visit, the lights need to stay on.

You cannot use your phone when driving in Iceland

It is against the law to have a phone in your hands whilst driving, whether making a call or not. A hands-free device is the only way you can use your mobile when driving a car in Iceland, so bring one with you or see if your hire company provide them.

Do not drink and drive in Iceland

Some countries have different rules on how much alcohol can be consumed before driving is classified as too dangerous. The simple advice for anywhere in the world is do not drive at all, even if you have had just one drink. In Iceland, this is something taken very seriously and if you are found to have consumed alcohol or drugs, the fines can be huge and the license implications just as bad. A first offence can see a driving ban of 4 months.

What do I need to be able to rent a car in Iceland?

Certain countries will require you to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) to be allowed on their roads. Iceland does not, however, so the process of legally being on the road there is quite easy. Simply carry your UK driving license, insurance documents and rental paperwork with you and you are good to go. If you have chosen not to rent a car but bring your own, then just ensure you have the V5 registration documents to go alongside insurance information and your license.

Furthermore, the age requirements for renting a car mean that you can only take advantage of car hire once you are 20+. You will also need to have been driving for at least one year.

Safety equipment for your car in Iceland

Hiring a car in Iceland should mean that you are provided with the relevant equipment to fulfil the requirements for being on the roads there. Always check with your rental company before signing anything, as you may find that these accessories are then rented out to you for an additional cost. If bringing your car, make sure you have these items with you:

  • Headlight converters (unless lights can be adjusted)
  • A warning triangle

The above are legal requirements, the list below comes recommended:

  • Spare bulbs for external lights
  • Fire extinguisher
  • A hi-vis jacket
  • A first-aid kit

What type of car should I hire in Iceland?

Iceland has many different terrains and very changeable weather. The type of break you go on will determine the surface that you will predominantly be driving on. For example, a city break to Reykjavik will need a simple 2WD vehicle, and you’ll find in winter months they are fitted with studded tyres. If they are not, ask. This type of vehicle is also perfect if you plan to utilise the famous golden circle or the huge ring road (more about them shortly).

If though, you plan to enjoy the F roads, then a 4×4 will be what you need. These roads are more rugged but not classified as off-road. Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. These roads are more gravel based, often muddy and will take you into the countryside and more mystical parts of the country. They can be dangerous, vast and often empty. It comes highly recommended that you don’t drive these by yourself in case a breakdown or accident occurs.

One word of advice we often hear is that if you want to head into the interior of Iceland then stick with a 4×4 for the whole trip, even if you are based somewhere that would otherwise see you using a 2WD car.

What are the golden circle and ring road?

The ring road of Iceland is a famous 832-mile road that takes you around the country through a host of towns and cities including Reykjavik. To be fully enjoyed it can take 7-10 days to complete. You could clear it in 17 hours, but you would be missing out on some fantastic sights and experiences.

The golden circle is a smaller road that gives drivers the chance to enjoy many of the sights, but on a smaller scale. The 190-mile loop will take you from Reykjavik and back with it being completed in a day, although you can spread it out to embrace some of what you encounter.


Driving in Iceland can be a fantastic experience and give you a trip full of memories. Ensure you are properly prepared by following our tips above. In addition, secure your worldwide insurance car hire excess  policy– this way there is less stress. With European excess car hire insurance costing as little as 12p per day, you can steer clear of costly excess fees and enjoy the glaciers, wildlife and mystique of Iceland. Contact us today for a free quote!


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