Illegal Off-road Driving by Tourists Problematic

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Illegal Off-road Driving by Tourists Problematic

Driving in Iceland

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

An announcement was recently made on the official Facebook page of Fjallabak Nature Reserve, located in South Iceland, reminding travelers that motor-vehicle traffic is currently prohibited. The post was accompanied by several photos documenting damage done by such traffic. 

Many tourists have been found to disregard regulations banning off-road driving during times when vegetation is vulnerable. This is particularly during the melt season, when the ground is partially melted and water-soaked.

Illegal off-road driving causes a great deal of damage to the flora of protected areas, some of it irreversible.

According to Ingibjörg Eiríksdóttir, specialist with the Environment Agency and park ranger in South Iceland, guided trips are being sold in areas where driving is banned.  “Some of this [damage] is impossible to repair and takes years or even decades to recover, and that’s what we’re dealing with year after year,” she said in an interview with Fréttablaðið on Thursday.

Kristján Kristjánsson, owner of Mountain Taxi, which specializes in highland tours, claims that to place the blame on professional tour companies is misguided, and it is rather tourists in rental-cars who are responsible for the majority of illegal off-road driving. “Everyone who wants to know, knows that off-roads driving is primarily done by foreign tourists in rental-jeeps,” he said.

Kristján himself does not sell trips into closed areas, although he knows of others who do. They are, however, he claims, skilled and knowledgeable enough to be able to stay on the roads, driving over large piles of snow, which more inexperienced drivers circumvent, which causes them to veer off the road. “Ninety-nine percent of off-road driving is done in rental-jeeps. We have to be able to discuss this.”

There are no particular dates set for the closing of protected areas to motor-vehicle traffic, but they are rather determined by weather and the degree of melt. Closings are, however, made abundantly clear by the Road and Coastal Administration, both by clear signage along the borders of such areas, as well as on their website.

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