Driving around Finland can be one of the best ways to visit the many towns and cities plus see some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, but driving can be sometimes dangerous. The safety of Finnish roads has improved dramatically over the past ten years, which reflects in the road statistics with the number of fatalities decreasing every year. Road conditions are good and the country has a great network of roads to get you from one place to another.
In 2017, the total number of fatalities recorded on Finnish roads was 209, with most occurring on highways. Being aware of the road conditions and heeding warning signs for wildlife in the area will go a long way to ensuring you get to your destination safely.
In Finland, you must be 18 years to drive however you need to be 21 years old to hire a car. It's compulsory to carry all necessary documents on you while driving in Finland such as a valid driver's license, passport, insurance documents and registration papers. The International Driving Permit is recognized but not essential. Before you drive off, do a thorough check of the car.
By law, it's compulsory to have the following in your vehicle:
To start off, having dipped headlights on is compulsory at all times, including if you are stationary on the side of the road.
Other drivers may flash their lights at you while passing you. No, they aren't warning you about the cops down the road, it's more likely to be a moose or something else so take a bit off your speed and be prepared to stop.
It's an offense to leave your engine idling while stationary for more than 2 mins (4 mins if the temperature is below 5°F (-15°C)). Unless of course you are stuck in an unavoidable traffic jam.
Finland has very tough policies on drinking and driving. It's considered a serious offense and you can expect a lengthy prison sentence if caught.
The drink drive limit in Finland is 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood (lower than many other countries).
It's also an offense to use a cell phone while driving unless you are using it via a hands-free kit.
In the event of an emergency or accident, call 112.
In Finland, all road signs are in kilometers per hour.
In residential and built up areas - 31 mph (50km/h)
Outside built up and residential areas - 50mph (80km/h)
On the motorways - 75mph (120km/h)
In summer, you can travel up to 62mph (100km/h) on highways, in winter it's 50mph (80km/h).
There are both mobile and fixed speed cameras in Finland so slow down if you don't want to donate your travel funds to the local government.
In 2015, a Finnish man was fined 54,024 euros (~US$58,000) for traveling 64 mph (103km/h) in a 50mph (80km/h) zone!
Driving through Finland during winter can be like driving through a Christmas card scene; snow covered trees, mountains, houses, frozen lakes snow-lined roads.
The days are so short you're driving mostly in the dark and the weather conditions can reduce visibility significantly. If you aren't confident driving in snow and darkness, it's probably best to choose another form of transport to get around Finland. In some parts of the country, it can be several hours until you see the next town after the one you left.
Between 1st December and 31st March, it's compulsory to have winter tyres (preferrably studded) on your vehicle. Snow chains are illegal. Black ice is a real hazard during winter so it's important to take this into account while out on the road as braking times may be longer and sliding can happen on curved parts of the road. Take it easy when driving around corners and curves. Drive with caution and keep a longer distance than normal between you and the vehicle in front.
Engine heaters, while not compulsory in winter, are strongly recommended. It's also a good idea to carry some food and water with you plus know where the nearest town or accommodation is in the event of the weather turning nasty.
If you do happen to pull over to check out the scenery or take photos, make sure you have pulled off the road and out of the way of traffic.
Be aware that at night, including in large cities, it's common practice to turn off traffic lights at major intersections early in the evening.
In spring and autumn, especially around sunrise and sunset, animals such as moose, reindeer and elk can wander onto the road even on major roadways.
According to the Finnish Interior Ministry, there are roughly 1500 collisions with moose every year, resulting in 10 deaths and 300 injuries.
The areas with the highest rates of moose and vehicle collisions are mostly the central regions, from the coast of Ostrobothnia, through Central Finland and down to Southeast Finland.
Should you, unfortunately, have a collision with an animal, you are obliged to call 112 so local police can come out and assess the situation in case the animal can be treated or it needs to be put to sleep.
Fake police have become increasingly a problem in Finland, with locals and travelers alike being exploited. Legitimate Finnish Police can issue on the spot fines however they will never ask for on the spot payment.
Also be aware of men waving down cars after supposedly having "trouble" with their car. If you stop, they then start asking for money for petrol or trying to sell some fake jewelry.
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Sleep in a glass igloo, meet the nomadic Sámi people, go dog-sledding, and see the northern lights in Finland this winter.
Finland has incredible wildlife. Bears, moose, wolves, elk, wolverines and more but it's not a case of getting up and close with these amazing creatures.