Keep your eyes off the skies and on the road.
According to police, more tourists are wrecking their vehicles because they are distracted by the Northern Lights. Reports claim 18 people died of traffic crashes in Iceland last year, and at least half were foreign tourists.
“Weather and road conditions are one thing, but it also comes down to very problematic behavior with some tourist drivers,” Akureyri Police Superintendent Johannes Sigfusson told Sky News recently.
Because of light pollution, the natural phenomenon—which is the result of collisions between electrically-charged particles from the sun that enter the atmosphere—is often viewed outside of the cities like Reykjavik, the country’s capital, and Akureyri, where the sun sets as early as 2:43 p.m. Sigfusson says stopping in the middle of the road to capture a photo while the Northern Lights are out is especially hazardous.
He also pointed out the constant changing of weather affects roads and, “the risk is compounded in the middle of the night, when an inexperienced driver is deprived of sleep and with one eye on the sky.” To remedy this, more companies near cities are offering bus tours so that drivers won’t put themselves at risk.
However, efforts to improve the infrastructure of Iceland’s roads has also been problematic as it has not been able to keep with the increasing number of visitors. The Icelandic Road Administration found that a fourth of Iceland’s one-lane bridges—there are more than 700—are more than 60 years old.
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If you’re looking to view the Northern Lights safely and responsibly in Iceland (and opt out of a bus trip), drive carefully. Have a destination in mind before getting behind the wheel and focus on the roads—especially those that only have space for one vehicle—until coming to a complete stop in an area that is a safe distance from traffic. The Icelandic Transport Authority also recommends you refrain from speeding on any mountain roads, as they are often very narrow. “The same goes for many bridges, which are only wide enough for one car at a time,” reads the Authority’s website.