Driving in Scandinavia

Road through Swedish landscape
(c) 2006 M.K. sxc.hu

Scandinavia is a popular travel destination, especially for fans of nature. In the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden, you'll find vast and beautiful wilderness with glaciers in the north and forests and lakes in the south as well as fascinating, clean, and attractive cities spread throughout the region.

While you can typically take a train or bus throughout most of Scandinavia, many opt to drive themselves instead. If you plan on driving during your trip to Scandinavia, there are a few things you should know before you set out on your adventure.

Checklist for driving in Scandinavia:

  • Valid U.S. Driver's License
  • Valid U.S. Passport
  • Car's insurance certificate and registration
  • Must be 18 years or older

Rules of the Road

When you drive in Scandinavian countries, you will soon notice that they have very similar laws and regulations to those found in the United States. However, there are a few distinct differences—that often vary by country in Scandinavia—in how the driving laws are written in much of the region.

  • Right of way: Trolleys, Buses, and disembarking passengers always have the right of way in all Scandinavian countries. If a bus passenger gets off at an intersection, you are to wait until they cross the street to continue forward.
  • Seat belts: Passengers in the front and back seat must all wear seat belts when in motion. Children under 3 years old or under four feet, 5 inches (1.25 meters) tall must ride in an appropriately-fitted car seat.
  • Speed limits: The maximum speed allowed depends on the type of road you're on and the country you're visiting. The general speed limit for residential areas is 30 kilometers per hour (18 miles per hour) while the speed limit for non-urban roads is typically 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour).
  • Alcohol: Drivers are not allowed to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.05% in Denmark or over 0.02% in Norway and Sweden, which is lower than the limit in most of the United States (0.05 to 0.08%). Police in these countries randomly administer breathalyzer tests and issue hefty tickets for breaking the individual laws in each country. Additionally, drunk driving will likely land you in jail.
  • Other substances: Scandinavian countries have strict laws governing driving under the influence of psychotropic substances. All countries ban driving under the influence of marijuana (THC, cannabis), methylamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy); however, Norway and Sweden have laws about even more drugs. Police will test drivers for a variety of substances if they believe they are under the influence. Being caught operating a vehicle while under the influence can result in a hefty fine, imprisonment, or even a ban from the country.
  • Headlights: Unlike in the United States, headlights must always remain on—even during the daytime. Dipped headlights, or low beams, are required during the daytime whether the weather is cloudy or clear.
  • Tolls: While you generally do not have to pay tolls in Denmark or Sweden, there are numerous toll roads in Norway that require you to set up automatic payment before you travel. Pre-register your toll tag with a credit card through the Euro Parking Collection (EPC) before your trip to save time and hassle on your trip.
  • Side of the Road: After Sweden switched from driving on the lefthand side of the road in 1967, all Scandinavian countries now require motorists to drive on the right side of the road.
  • Cyclists: Be aware of bike lanes and cyclists across Scandinavia as many people bike across the region. While in designated lanes, cyclists have the right of way.
  • In case of emergency: In most of Scandinavia, everyone is required by law to help in the event of an accident, even if not involved in the accident itself. In Sweden, dial 020912912 to reach emergency services, or you can use the European Emergency Number, 112, in any Scandinavian country (including Sweden).

    Types of Roads in Scandinavia

    There are four types of roads in Scandinavia and each type has its own designated speed limit. The speed limit is displayed on a round sign with a red circle outline in kilometers per hour. The standard speed limits should be followed unless a sign indicates otherwise.

    • Residential areas: 30 kilometers per hour (18 miles per hour)
    • Urban roads: 50 kilometers per hour (31 miles per hour).
    • Non-urban roads: 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles per hour) in Sweden, 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour) elsewhere
    • Motorways or Expressways: Up to 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour) in Denmark, 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour) in Norway, and 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour) in Sweden

    Winter Driving in Scandinavia

    Due to the heavy snowfall Norway and Sweden receive every winter, drivers are required by law to equip their vehicles with snow tires once the police determine they are necessary for safe transit. Snow tires must have a minimum tread depth of three millimeters, but most winter rentals will already have these tires equipped when you pick up your car.

    Meanwhile, snow tires are not required by law in Denmark, Iceland, or Finland but are recommended for winter road conditions and can be requested from the rental agency when you book your car reservation.

    Traffic Rules App

    The Going Abroad app, administered by the European Commission, has information about important driving facts such as laws in each country about speed and alcohol limits, traffic lights, seat belt rules, and distracted driving. You'll also find the laws about wearing helmets on bikes and motorcycles.

    Driving Specifics by Country in Scandinavia

    Since the rules and regulations governing operating motor vehicles vary slightly by country, prepare for your Scandinavian driving vacation by reviewing specifics for each country you plan to visit first:

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