Iceland Mag

4 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

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

By Staff

  • Should have stayed on the road Driving off-road doesn't just destroy nature marring untouched landscapes, it can also get travellers into all kinds of unwanted trouble. Photo/Vísir.

The strange case of a local man who managed to drive his 4x4 half way up to the steep hill of mount Esja, before he managed to get stuck in the middle of a bog, has re-ignited a debate about off-road driving in Iceland. Experts argue that while the Esja off-road idiocy might be remarkable newsworthy due to its brazenness it was a relatively minor incidence. Many argue it is necessary to raise the fines for criminal off-road driving.

Read more: Local man facing steep fines for off-road idiocy in the slopes of mount Esja

"I don't see any reason to show lenience in these kinds of cases. This is too serious a problem," the chairman of Landvernd, the largest nature conservation organization in Iceland told Vísir. The average fine for off-road driving is 100-200.000 ISK (960-1,900 USD/810-1,600 EUR), although the maximum punishment allowable by law is 350,000 ISK (3,400 USD/2,800 EUR) and four years in prison.

In some cases park rangers who have managed to catch off-roaders in action have also forced the offenders to clean up their tracks.

Read more:  Chinese off-roaders forced to cover their tracks by hand

The problem, some have argued, is that many foreign travellers do not know they are engaged in criminal activity when they drive off-road, or that they fail to realize that they are leaving a permanent mark on the landscape. The sub-arctic vegetation of Iceland is extremely fragile, and it can take decades for tracks left in a short off-roading adventure to heal. Driving off-road on deserted wasteland, volcanic sands or the deserts of the Central Highlands also leaves ugly marks which take a long time to heal or disappear. 

Off-road driving
Leaving a mark These tracks will take years to disappear. Photo/Vísir

A second problem is that travellers often fail to realize that the presence of what appears to be a track is not an invitation for others to follow. Driving along old tracks on farmlands or heaths is not considered off-road driving if you are the landowner, or if you are transporting livestock or for other farming related activities, or if you are engaged in sheep herding.  

Off-road driving
Avoiding a few extra steps Some of the vegetation of the heaths and mountains can recover, but they also hide the ground from view, obscuring obstacles, holes or crevasses which can bring any 4x4 to a sudden stop. Many of the worst damages are caused by motorists who were trying to get free after getting stuck. Photo/Vísir

These kinds of roads are not marked on maps, and in many cases they are only suitable for ATVs, tractors or mountain trucks. The local man who got stuck in the slopes of mount Esja had followed one such track which dates back to WWII. While the track had been suitable to 4x4s or trucks 50 years ago, the mountain has long since reclaimed most of it. The same applies for countless tracks in Iceland. 

Off-road driving

Enjoying nature? Camping in the wilderness is a great way to get into touch with nature. Driving your SUV over untouched lands isn't. Photo/Vísir

A final point some have made is that many mountain and highland roads are too narrow for cars to pass one another, forcing cars to drive off-road when they meet. In these circumstances drivers must show caution, and choose the spot carefully to minimize the damage. The same applies when drivers meet other obstacles on the road. 

Off-road driving
Was that necessary? The vegetation in the central highlands and mountains of Iceland is very fragile. Wounds created by off-roading expose the topsoil to erosion which is a serious problem in Iceland. Photo/Vísir


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