Driving in the Nordic countries

In Sweden, driving is the most practical way to get around outside the big cities. While most roads are good, and traffic jams are rare, winter driving and animal collisions are major concerns.

Understand edit

In large parts of Sweden it is essential to have a car, mainly due to the long distances, but also because public transport is scarce outside populated areas. Some lines only run on weekdays, with no or few departures on weekends and public holidays. You will encounter people of all ages and experience behind the wheel, which means some of them will drive excessively slow, well below speed limits, lowering their speed well in advance of a turn, and perhaps even driving insecurely.

Legal requirements edit

Studded winter tires, while perfectly legal in winter elsewhere, are prohibited on some streets in Stockholm, Uppsala and Gothenburg.

All motor vehicles in Sweden must have their headlights on, even at daytime. Modern Swedish-sold cars always have the lights turned on automatically (unless you actively turn it off), so if you rent a car in Sweden you won't have to worry about it. If you drive without lights you may find other drivers flashing their headlights at you to inform you. If your car is fitted with daytime running lights these are sufficient in daytime.

Driver and passengers must use seat belts, when the car is equipped with them (antique cars are exempt). Crash helmets are mandatory for drivers and passengers of motorcycles. Motorcycle passengers under the age of seven may use any appropriate helmet — a riding helmet, skiing helmet or bicycle helmet.

In winter conditions from 1 December to 31 March all cars used in Sweden are required by law to have either studded tires or un-studded winter friction tires (or equivalent measures like snow chains). The tyres must be marked, M+S, M-s, M.S, M&S, MS or Mud and Snow. "Winter conditions" are to be expected in this period. Studded winter tires are allowed 1 October to 15 April. See the Transport Ministry info (in English)

There are streets in Stockholm, Uppsala and Gothenburg where studded tyres are banned. There is a road sign for this.

If parking a German vehicle, and using SMS or a phone app to pay, do not add a hyphen to the vehicle number, even if this is commonly done in Germany. If parking a Belgian, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Irish or Latvian vehicle, do add the hyphens, if possible (apps might not allow them). The police are extremely strict about the precise content of the plate to be used, even if these faults can not point to a different vehicle. The supreme court ruled that doing your best is enough (see article in Swedish), but it might still pay to be careful.

Roads edit

Priority road with 70 km/h limit (länsväg 261). The dashed line, common in Sweden, means you are allowed to use the shoulder to facilitate overtaking.

The European road network goes through Sweden, and mostly have higher standard than national or local roads. Some important roads are:

Most of the European roads outside Norrland are highways.

Second in the hierarchy are national roads (riksvägar) with two digit numbers.

Roads with more than two digits are called regional roads (länsvägar) and come in two flavors. Major ones are numbered 100–400 and are signposted. Minor ones with higher numbers do not have signposted numbers, although some GPS maps have those numbers.

Finding directions edit

  • The best markings are made with big blue signs with the name of the upcoming towns.
  • If the road leading there is a freeway, the signs are green instead of blue.
  • Unless you are going on a very big road, make your directions based on what towns or villages you are passing and keep an eye out for these signs instead of the road numbers.

Speed limits edit

Standard speed limits in Sweden, mandatory headlights and mandatory seatbelts

The current speed limit is very well marked by signs. The speed limit signs are in km/h. Speed signs on each side of the road mean from this point this is the new speed. A sign on the right only indicates the speed limit has not changed.

The speed limit for roads outside built-up areas is always 70 km/h unless otherwise indicated.

Some signs also indicate the speed limit. These are:

  • The freeway (motorväg) sign also means 110 km/h.
  • The highspeed road (motortrafikled) sign indicates 90 km/h (100 km/h on roads with cable fence between the lanes.
  • The start of village sign means 50 km/h.
  • The end of village sign means 70 km/h.
  • The freeway (motorväg) sign is always posted together with a sign indicating the speed limit for this road.
  • The "start of village" sign is also always posted together with a speed limit sign.

The respect for the speed limit is rather poor. Often, when you are driving at the correct speed on a 70 or 90 km/h road, you will constantly get passed by other cars or be urged to get out of the way to let them pass. On the other hand, speeding on 30 km/h roads is not accepted. If caught, speeding will cost you from 1500 kr, for 1–10 km/h too fast, to 4000 kr, for 36–40 km/h too fast on 70 km/h or faster roads. Speeding on slower roads is more expensive.

Road signs edit

Sweden follows the convention regarding road signs, so they are more or less the same as in the rest of Europe – but they differ substantially from those in for example the Americas and parts of Oceania and Asia. The warning signs are triangular but have symbols that should be understandable.

These are some signs that could need explanation for foreign visitors.

Some useful phrases that might be found on signs edit

1 tim 1 hour
Avgift Fee
Gäller (även) ... Concerns (also) ...
Gäller ej ... Does not concern ...
Parkering förbjuden     No Parking
P-skiva Parking disc
Utfart Exit (for vehicles)
Utgång Exit (for pedestrians)

Drunk driving edit

Do not even think about driving after you have drunk alcohol. The legal limit is 0.02 per cent, only a quarter of that in the United States, Canada, or Britain. This limit means that you cannot drink one beer before driving. Police, at any time, can take blood by force, and if you are over the limit, you may lose your driving license and may even get jail time.

Lorries edit

Lorries (trucks) with trailers are often longer than in other European countries. Maximum length is 25.25 m instead of 18 m in continental Europe. This is the standard and does not have signs indicating a long vehicle. These vehicles are allowed on all roads unless there's a local weight or length restriction. Keep this in mind when trying to overtake. It's not uncommon to meet these lorries fully loaded with timber on narrow, curvy rural roads. If so, slow down, keep out or find a wide place to meet.

Stay safe edit

See also: Winter driving, Animal collisions
Warning sign for moose.

Animal collisions edit

Many countryside accidents are animal collisions. The biggest roads normally have fences against wild animals, but the smaller roads do not. You need to look out for deer and moose unless you want a 500 kg animal coming through the windscreen. Steer to the rear of the animal, as it might run forward when scared. In the north you will also have to watch out for reindeer. They usually travel in herds. Always slow down until all of them have passed. Reindeer are not that agile and unwilling to jump into a ditch. They will follow the road to the next level place at the roadside and then disappear into the wilderness.

Be extra careful to wild animals on the roads under these circumstances:

  • Sunrise/sunset.
  • Springtime (as moose reject last year's calves and give birth to new ones).
  • Moose hunting season in early October.
  • Edge of forests.
  • Bridges across streams.

In some cases there are fences along part of the road and then the fences stop for the purpose of letting the animals pass. In such cases and in other places where wild animals are often seen there are normally warning signs.

These animals are mostly moving at dusk and dawn. While driving along lakes be especially observant as animals go for drinks at the lakes. Also, if driving in the hunting season, the wild animals might be scared by hunting parties and move around more than usual. It is normal for an ongoing hunting party to place temporary triangular traffic warning signs at the edge of roads with the text: "Jakt pågår" (ongoing hunt).

If you hit an animal and it wanders off into the woods wounded, don't forget to mark the spot where it wandered into the forest and call the police. Hitting an animal is not a crime, but not reporting it is. Your car must be fitted with a special paper ribbon (viltolycksremsa) for this purpose. The purpose for this is to be able to use dogs to hunt down the wounded animal – viltolycka.se (in Swedish only).

A-traktor edit

An A-traktor.

An a-traktor (also known as epatraktor). It is a rebuilt (old) car where the transmission is locked, so the maximum speed is 30 km/h (though many vehicles can illegally unlock higher speeds). An A-traktor can be legally driven from the age of 15. The vehicle has a large red triangular warning sign on the rear end, and must give way to other traffic by driving on the shoulder of the road when necessary. The A-traktor is common in the countryside. They have been involved in some serious incidents, and drivers in Sweden should learn how to interact with them.

Crime edit

While Sweden has a low to moderate crime rate, car burglaries are not unheard of. Use common sense, especially in cities, and avoid leaving valuables in the car.

Fuel edit

Standard fuel (drivmedel) in Sweden are 95 octane petrol (gasoline; Swedish: bensin), diesel and E85, an ethanol (etanol) fuel blend of 85% ethanol fuel and 15% petrol. Prices for petrol and diesel are high due to taxation, but usally on par with other western european countries. Diesel is generally more expensive than petrol. 98 octane petrol is also available on some filling stations.

Fuel gas (fordonsgas) is available at 180 stations, and there are more than 2,000 public charging stations (laddstation) for electric cars — most of them in the southern parts of Sweden.

Electric cars have become very popular in Sweden, and the charging network is constantly being expanded. The guide chargefinder shows all charging sites.

Discount filling stations like din-X, Ingo, st1, Tanka and Qstar usually have the lowest prices, but most of them are without staff and cashless. Domestic cards and credit cards like VISA and Mastercard are accepted. Premium filling stations like Circle K, Gulf, OKQ8, Preem and Shell mostly have a convenience store, a car wash and perhaps cars and trailers for rent. Those along the E4, E6, E20 and E18 European routes might also have rooms or cottages for rent. Premium filling stations that are open 24 hours daily have a sign with the text "Nattöppet" (open at night), but at night they may only have a window hatch open for business (to avoid robberies).

See also edit

This travel topic about Driving in Sweden is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.