My first speeding ticket

On Monday afternoon, coming into Ísafjörður, I was pulled over for speeding — my first time ever, surprisingly. Naturally, I decided to contest it.

The way to Ísafjörður from Hellnar is a gnarly three hour gravel road. Before hitting town, you’ll drive through a long (~10 km) tunnel with a 60 km/h speed limit. After the tunnel, the speed limit goes back up to 90 km/h. And then, kilometers before you enter the city proper, it drops back down to 60 km/h. But I missed that sign (crying baby and all). Most of Iceland is 90 km/h unless you’re within a city’s limits.

We took a pit stop between the tunnel and town at Bonus to pick up groceries for the week. Within a couple of minutes out of the parking lot, a police car passed us, pulled a U-turn, and flashed its lights. Busted!

The police asked me to get in the back seat of the police car because they video record the interaction. They explained the 60 km/h speed limit and showed me their clocked speed, which I didn’t disagree with. I was going 82 km/h because I thought the speed limit was still 90 km/h. I explained I wanted to contest the ticket.

In the US, my understanding of the game is this: get a speeding ticket, contest it in front of a judge, get anywhere between 0-100% off. Typically it’s at least 50% off. And that’s if you formally get a ticket — if you have a cute baby in the back seat, the police will just let you off with a warning. I’d grade my argument a B-, worth 40% off.

In Iceland, contesting a speeding ticket is mostly unheard of, and confuses the police. First, you’ll have to go with them to the station. There you’ll need to explain for at least an hour why you’re wanting to submit an appeal. Once you get them to agree,  you’ll need to go back each morning to ask whether your appeal paperwork has been submitted yet. But don’t worry, it hasn’t.

I also learned:

  • Foreigners have the same rights as Icelanders to an appeal process (Article 30 of Act On Foreigners No. 96 /2002).
  • Your actual rights to an appeal process are pretty obtuse to understand (Section 7 of Administrative Procedure Act).
  • The police say you can be detained in the country during your appeal, which I didn’t ever see in writing. This was largely their argument for why I should pay the fee in a prompt manner.
  • Electronic speed limit signs, which show your current speed and flash if you’re over, are 1.5 million ISK (~$13k USD).
  • Ísafjörður has one of the aforementioned signs on the lesser used road into town. I’d be curious as to why it’s there, and not on the main road.
  • Iceland does have a legal process for requesting anonymized data from the government. I’d hypothesize speeding tickets during the summer months are a cash cow.

Unless you’re me, it’s probably easier for you to just pay the ticket via credit card while in the back seat of the police car. I wanted to get my money’s worth in the form of a better understanding of Iceland’s legal system.

And remember, if you don’t exercise your legal rights, you might find you no longer have them.


Ryan July 16, 2014 Reply

Contesting a ticket when you know you broke the law and you have no way to prove otherwise seems kinda fruitless. If anything, I’d be worried I’d get another fine for wasting the authorities time.

Daniel Bachhuber July 16, 2014 Reply

You are: 1) very literal, and 2) clearly not American.

Ryan July 16, 2014 Reply

(1) I literally think any judge who lets someone off a crime for no good reason needs to have their head read.
(2) Logic works in and outside of the USA 😛

Ryan July 16, 2014 Reply

Something I don’t get here, is that you thought having a baby in the backseat would help you get off a ticket. But I’d have assumed that would be treated far more harshly than if you were on your own.

Sarah Grewe July 16, 2014 Reply

Daniel, you broke the law, in a foreign country. There is no reason to expect their system to be the same as ours. And to my way of thinking the system here is quite flawed, so why would you want Iceland to mimic our silly game.

I’ve tried to talk policeman out of tickets for various reasons and it never worked for me.
I’ve seen people get out of tickets because they are pretty or charming or whatever. Never seemed fair to me. It would have been nice if you got a warning, but you didn’t. I think pursuing this is a waste of time for you, them, etc.

adrianne July 16, 2014 Reply

‘I wanted to get my money’s worth in the form of a better understanding of Iceland’s legal system.’ Awesome.

As long as you’re not a dick about it, I support you. Maybe they’ll add a few extra signs to make the changing limit clearer if enough people complain about it.

Daniel Bachhuber July 16, 2014 Reply

Maybe they’ll add a few extra signs to make the changing limit clearer if enough people complain about it.

This is what it boils down to for me now — and that because most people just willingly pay the fee, it’s useful to have someone push for some discussion about it once in a while.

Ronald Huereca July 16, 2014 Reply

I’ve only ever contested a ticket in the U.S. once. I was pulled over for running a red light, which I clearly did not do.

I took the cop to court and the cop made up a story that the light was red for 2 minutes when I plowed through it and mirailously didn’t harm anyone.

I stated the officer was mistaken, had no dash cam proof, and that he must have pulled over the wrong car.

The judge said “I was probably distracted” and judged me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The next ticket, which I did indeed run a red light, I apologized to the officer, thanked him for the ticket, and them took a 6 hour defensive driving course to get out of it.

I contested my first ticket because I did nothing wrong. On the 2nd, which I did, I owned up to it.

You were speeding with a baby in tow. You say you were distracted and not paying attention (your problem). I do not see the point of contesting the ticket just because you can. Yes, I’m literal, and an American.

Guy geffen June 14, 2015 Reply

I spent 3 weeks in Iceland earlier this year in March. our car was a heavy hummer whose scale doesnt go beyond 120kmh. most places it wouldnt even reach 90. I couldnt speed with it even if I tried. I received a fine notification of about 200$ saying I was going 124. absurd. I remeber seeing signs bleeping speed readings that were so unaccurate, I was going 75 and theywere showing numbers well over a 100. I honestly believe they are scamming. I am aware of my driving and I would never do 124 with that thing…

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