Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


German traveller facing heavy fines after criminal off-road driving in Central Highlands

By Staff

  • Criminal off-roader The German traveller has visited Iceland six times, and should therefore be fully aware of the illegality and effects of his shameful behaviour. Photo/Ólafur Schram

"In my opinion he should be banned from ever returning to Iceland." Drastic measures are needed to stop destructive disrespect of Icelandic nature, a local guide argues.

Exposure and shame effective weapons

Yesterday Ólafur Schram confronted a German man who had been been engaged in systematic criminal off-road driving along Nýidalur valley on Sprengisandur trail in the Central Highlands. The man, who has visited Iceland six times before and therefore cannot claim ignorance as an excuse, tried to deny having engaged in off-road driving and only confessed when confronted with photographic proof.

The man has been reported to the police which will issue a formal charge and fine the man for his actions.

Read more: Photos: Destructive and criminal off-road driving a serious and growing problem

Off-road driving German traveller Sprengisandur

Off-road driving The truck seemd to have spent more time off-road than on the actual road. Photo/Ólafur Schram

Ólafur shared photos of some of the tracks the man had left, as well as a photo of the car. He argues that one of the most effective ways to address criminal off-road driving is to expose and shame the offenders.

Plead innocence and claimed ignorance
Ólafur was taking a group of travellers across Sprengisandur desert in the Central Highlands when he came upon a trail of destruction left by a previous traveller. He immediately took action to ensure the person responsible would be dealt with:

"I drove south from Laugafell highland oasis and was met by fresh tracks. I made regular stops to take photos of the tracks. Looking at the tracks I remembered a Benz Unimog truck which had been in Laugafell the previous night. I called the highland guard at Nýidalur cabin and asked him to stop the car when it arrived, as I would bring evidence of what the driver had been doing."

When the Unimog truck was stopped in Nýidalur the driver claimed he hadn't engaged in any off-road driving. All of his travel companions also all vouched for the man, claiming he had never once ventured off the road. It was only after Ólafur arrived and handed the guard his camera with the photographic evidence of the tracks the travellers had left that the man finally confessed.

"He bragged about this being his seventh visit to Iceland, driving the same truck. It wasn't until until I presented him with photographs of showing the result of his actions and handed them to the highland guard that the man confessed. He probably didn't dare otherwise, with me standing right in front of him, probably afraid he might get punched right in the nose."

Very definition of off-road driving

Off-road driving German traveller Sprengisandur

What "fun" These tracks take years to disappear. They also serve as an invitation to other idiots to follow off-road. Photo/Ólafur Schram

The highland guard in Nýidalur who stopped the German traveller, Stefanía R. Ragnarsdóttir, told the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that the man claimed that he didn't realize that driving "along the road" was considered off-road driving, to which she responded by pointing out that driving off the road was always off-road driving, and that the activities the man had engaged in were the very definition of off-road driving. 

Read more: Park rangers spend much of their time trying to repair damages done to nature

The photographs taken by Ólafur also show that the travellers did more than just drive alongside the road. Since this is the seventh time the man has visited Iceland he can not claim ignorance of Icelandic laws or customs, nor can he claim to be unaware of the fact that unless they are removed by hand the tracks that he left take years or decades to disappear.

Shame and exposure effective tools

Off-road driving German traveller Sprengisandur
It's no big deal, right? No. Tracks like these destroy the fragile vegetation of the Central Highlands, they take years to disappear and they tend to encourage others to take a spin off the road, thus multiplying the initial damage. Photo/Ólafur Schram

The photos of the truck and the tracks it left went viral on Icelandic social media after Ólafur posted them to his Facebook page. Local news media covered the incidence, which is only the latest example of a growing problem, and a lively debate has taken place on Facebook.

Ólafur points out that exposing people who destroy Icelandic nature rather than enjoy its beauty is an effective way to address the problem:

"What kind of destruction did this man leave behind in his six previous visits? How can we Icelanders keep these kinds of people at bay and protect the country and its nature? It crushes the soul to see this kind of disrespect for the natural beauty of Iceland. By publishing and distributing this photo we hope this man becomes notorious enough that he might at least find it uncomfortable to refuel his truck.“

We at Iceland Magazine would like to stress that while some of the problematic, disrespectful or destructive behavior by foreign visitors can be chalked up to mistakes or ignorance, and that many visitors who engage in illegal off-road driving can legitimately claim ignorance as an excuse, none of this applies to the German traveller. Having visited Iceland six times the man knew full well what he was doing, but decided to do it anyway. We hope that he has learned his lesson, and that the story serves as precaution to others.

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