There are now 24,000 rental cars on the road in Iceland, which is more than ever before, RÚV reports. Accidents involving tourists are also on the rise, as there are many things that make driving in Iceland unexpectedly challenging for newcomers. “[W]e are in fact always educating new people about these unique conditions that we Icelanders are used to, but they’re not,” says Þórhildur Elín Elínarsdóttir, the communications director for the Icelandic Transport Authority.
“There are no expressways here,” says Þórhildur Elín. “There’s only one lane in either direction [on Ring Road One] and people need to pass if they want to go faster. Gravel roads are common; sheep right on the roadside. There are wide open spaces, waterfalls, and mountains in every direction. There are single lane bridges and blind hills. These are all things that many people aren’t familiar with from their homeland and need to learn about, and we really want them to learn these things before they arrive, not through bitter experience.”
Many tourists renting cars in Iceland right now are from large cities, where they use other means of transportation and seldom drive. Moreover, not all visitors are accustomed to wearing seatbelts, which becomes a particular problem when they become so distracted by the scenery that they stop paying attention to the road. People driving too slowly, or stopping in dangerous spots to take photographs, are also a frequent problem.
“Mutual consideration is extremely important,” says Þórhildur Elín. “We are all participants in transit—it doesn’t matter where we come from or where we’re going. What matters most is that we keep a level head. We’re all in this together. It makes no difference if we’re Icelanders or foreigners.”
The Icelandic Transport Authority has produced a video about driving and driving hazards in Iceland that can be watched at drive.is.