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National Day of Iceland and
Iceland Travel Tips

photo of  Reykjavík, Iceland

National Day of Iceland

Every year the people of Iceland celebrate the foundation of the Republic of Iceland since June 17, 1944. This year the Icelanders commemorate their 71st anniversary of independence from Danish rule.

The United States was the first country to recognize Iceland's independence in 1944 following Danish rule, union with Denmark under a common king, and German and British occupation during World War II. Iceland is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but has no standing military of its own. The United States and Iceland signed a bilateral defense agreement in 1951; it remains in force, although U.S. military forces are no longer permanently stationed in Iceland.

Iceland's ties with other Nordic states, the United States, and other NATO member states are particularly close. Iceland and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Arctic Council, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

Iceland Travel Advice

On June 18, 2015, the British government issued Iceland Travel Advice to British travelers about Icelandic glacial flood in progress.

A Glacial flood is in progress around the southern edge of the Vatnajökull glacier leading into the Skaftá river. The Icelandic authorities are reporting that flood conditions are expected in Skaftá over the next two to three days and some flooding of unpaved roads close to Skaftá is possible. There is also a high likelihood that Hydrogen Sulphide gas will be released from the floodwater as it drains from the Vatnajökull ice-cap. The gas is particularly potent at the ice margin, where concentrations will reach poisonous levels and travellers are therefore advised to stay away from the edges of Skaftárjökull, Tungnaárjökull and Síðujökull while the flood occurs and to be aware of the higher risk of Crevasses occurring in this region.

Iceland is volcanically and seismically active.

The volcanic eruption in the area around Bárðarbunga volcano on Vatnajökull glacier in the east of Iceland, which began in August 2014, has ended. However, high levels of sulphur dioxide continue to be detected and the immediate area surrounding the eruption site remains closed to the public.

There have also been reports of higher than normal concentrations of sulphur dioxide in other parts of Iceland. If you have an existing respiratory condition you should take particular care and monitor reports from the Icelandic Met Office, http://en.vedur.is/.

Traffic Safety and Road Condition

Here are some travel tips from the U.S. Department of State about traffic safety and road condition in Iceland.

While in Iceland, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. You must be at least 17 years old to drive in Iceland. You can use your U.S. driver’s license for stays of 90 days or less in Iceland. Less than one-third of Iceland’s total road network is paved (2,262 miles of paved road vs. 5,774 miles of gravel or dirt road). Most of the 900-mile ring road (Highway 1) that encircles the country is paved, but that highway sometimes closes in certain places for road repair. Many other roads outside the capital, especially those that run through the center of the country, are dirt or gravel tracks. Paved roads which end and change to gravel tracks are usually marked with a sign that says “Malbik endar” shortly before the pavement ends – most accidents occur in the first 50 meters of gravel track, when drivers who were traveling at high speeds fail to slow down for the gravel and end up skidding off the roads. Even paved roads tend to be narrow and lack a shoulder or margin. Many bridges are only one-lane wide (marked with a sign “Einbreid bru”) so drivers must be alert to oncoming traffic. Extreme care should be taken when driving in rural areas during the winter (October through April), when daylight hours are limited and the weather and road conditions can change rapidly. Drivers should pay special attention to signs marking roads as impassable (the sign will usually say “Ofært”). If you drive on a road that the Icelandic authorities have marked as closed or impassable, and then become stuck, you may incur fines of up to 1500 USD for emergency assistance. Off-road driving is strictly prohibited in Iceland and can incur fines of up to 2000 USD.

Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July due to muddy conditions caused by snowmelt. If you are driving in the interior of Iceland, you should consider traveling with a second vehicle. Always inform someone of your travel plans. For information on current road conditions throughout the country, please consult the Public Roads Administration (Vegagerdin) website. This website can show you in real-time, the status off most roads in Iceland, color coded depending on the status.

For recorded weather information in English, call the Icelandic Weather Office (Vedurstofa Islands): 522-6000 (during regular office hours) or 902-0600; press 1 for English (pay-per-minute service available 24 hours a day).

Icelandic law requires drivers to keep headlights on at all times. Talking on cell phones while driving is prohibited, except when using a hands-free system, and is subject to a fine of 5000 Icelandic Kronur (approximately 45 USD). Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/h in residential areas. In rural areas, the speed limit depends on the type of road: on dirt and gravel roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h; on paved highways, the speed limit is 90 km/h. It is illegal to turn right on a red light. At four-way intersections, the right of way goes to the driver on the right; in traffic circles, drivers in the inside lane have the right of way. Many intersections in the capital have cameras to catch traffic violators.

The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and rear seats, and children under the age of six must be secured in a special car seat designed for their size and weight. Drivers are held responsible for any passenger under the age of 15 not wearing a seatbelt. No one shorter than 140 centimeters, lighter than 40 kilograms (or 88 pounds), or younger than 12 years of age is allowed to ride in a front seat equipped with an airbag.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious offense in Iceland. The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is very low. Drivers can be charged with DUI (Driving Under the Influence) with a BAT as low as .05 percent. Drivers stopped under suspicion of DUI are usually given a "balloon" or Breathalyzer test. If the test is positive, a blood test is routinely administered. Under Icelandic law, a blood test cannot be refused and will be administered by force if necessary. The minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine of 70,000 Icelandic Kronur (approximately 625 USD) and the loss of driving privileges for two months.

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