Driving in Sweden
This article is a travel topic
Driving around in Sweden takes you to places outside the big cities. This is a good way to travel if you are interested in seeing some countryside.
All vehicles in Sweden must have their headlights on at all times. If you drive without lights you may find other drivers flashing their headlights at you to inform you.
Note: during daytime, front fog lights (Swedish: Dimljus) or daytime running lights (Swedish: Varselljus) can be used instead of normal headlights, however you are not allowed to combine different kinds of lights (eg. foglight and headlights).
All car drivers must be 18 years old, regardless if the person has a licence.
From 1 December - 31 March (in case of winter conditions) all cars in use, both Swedish and non-Swedish, are required by law to have either studded tires or un-studded winter friction tires. The tires must be marked, M+S, M-s, M.S, M&S, MS or Mud and Snow. Outside this period studded tires may be used if the roads are considered to be in "winter conditions" by the local police.
Foreign registered cars are no longer exempt from this requirement.
The European road network through Sweden are the roads with the highest quality. Two important such roads are:
A big part of the European roads are freeways. The national roads (riksvägar) that have two digit numbers. They are the next best roads in terms of quality. The three digit numbered roads (länsvägar) come in two flavors. The big ones (numbers 100-400) and smaller ones (all other numbers).
The European roads and the national roads are well marked with signs telling you what road you are on and how to get onto these roads. The three digit numbered roads with numbers up to 400 are also marked. The further south in Sweden you are, the lower the road numbers will be. The smallest roads are in many cases 4 digit- roads that might show up on your GPS map, but are never marked with their numbers. They are just numbered for administrative purposes and they are often not paved.
How Swedes drive
Like most countries, drivers are different. Some drivers in Sweden are usually not respectful and calm and will try to overtake you rather aggressively. Likewise, some drivers in Sweden are very careful about the rules and follow the speed limit down to the last bit and will thus drive very slow despite having a free open lane in front and them causing a queue. On the motorways speed limits there are often two lanes: the left lane is for those who wish to pass or speed up (often going above the speed limit). One thing to take in account is that there is not 'passive' enforcement of the speed limit on the freeway, thus your chances of getting away with speeding are pretty high on the freeway; however on the slower roads (50 to 80) they tend to have speed cameras installed. Also be advised that Swedes tend to hang on the left lane even if there are no cars on the right lane; on a three lane road slow drivers are staying in the middle lane, even if there is room on the right.
Things to remember: The driving in the bigger cities is usually quite aggressive, with Stockholm drivers being known for breaking the rules in rather creative ways, and having zero patience at red lights. Swedes do speed massively on the freeway; don't move back to the right when overtaking; poor use of the indicator; handheld use of the mobile phone at high speeds, which include calling, messaging, facebooking, and even an occasional youtuber. (No holding of any mobile devices is legal as of February 2018) Also do not hang too long on the left, since Swedes will overtake you on the right at high speed, even though, as any other country in Europe, this is forbidden or at least strictly prohibited.
When switching lanes, most Swedes assume that indicating and moving directly is the way to go, or it seems so in a lot of situations with accidents as a result. The assumption is that if they indicate where they want to go, it is your obligation to move out of the way, even if there is no room, which is fundamentally wrong. The rule here is the same as elsewhere: mirror, indicate, look over the shoulder, then go if there is sufficient room. On the freeway extremely late exits and entries are commonplace, and if you adhere to the speedlimit and the proper rules, be careful for the ones that try to beat the rest to the curve.
Don't be discouraged by this, but make sure you are aware of this before driving in Sweden; it can be a rather daunting experience especially when Swedes are known to actually be rather calm and reserved, so it is quite the opposite in traffic.
Traffic jams are pretty common in the larger cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö especially during rush hour. Try to avoid the Stockholm rush hour (Mornings 07.00-09.00 and afternoons 16.30-18.00) especially from the south. The part of the E4 motorway that goes through the western parts of Stockholm is Sweden's busiest road. Road 55 between Norrköping and Uppsala is a good alternative to the E4 that can save you a lot of time by avoiding the Stockholm traffic jams.
Roads outside of towns can often be extremely quiet and you will hardly have other cars passing. This is a very relaxing experience compared to driving on the motorways and in cities.
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.
The current speed limit is very well marked by signs. The speed limit signs are in km/h. The signs you see are normally 30, 50, 70, 90 and 110. Recently, new speed limits have appeared, 40, 60, 80, 100 and 120. Two speed signs on each side of the road mean from this point this is the new speed. One sign on the right means that this is the speed on this road but there is no change in speed.
The standard speed for roads outside built-up areas is always 70 km/h unless otherwise indicated.
Since 2001 some new signs have been introduced or have been altered to also indicate the speed limit. These are:
With the adding of new speed limits in 2008 the signs mentioned above now follow these rules:
The respect for obeying the speed limit outside built-up areas is rather poor. Often, when you are driving at the correct speed on a 70 or 90km/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 (about €160) (1-10 km/h too fast) to 4000 kr (about €430) (36-40 km/h too fast) on 70 km/h or faster roads. Speeding on slower roads is more expensive.
You are obliged by law to have your headlights on at all times, even in the middle of the day. 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.
See also: Winter driving
Wild animals! Major roads may have warning signs and also miles of running fences to prevent wild animals from entering the driveway, but there are no absolute guarantees. Small and bigger animals do venture out on the roads, sometimes even in major urban areas, at anytime. Badgers and foxes are common roadkill and will do little damage to vehicles, but deer, wild boar and moose is a different story. Hitting a moose will certainly wreck any normal car and travellers will be glad to survive such a massive impact at high speeds. In the north of the country, there are not just small groups of stray reindeers to consider but also the occasional herd being transferred between grazing areas.
Drivers in Sweden are recommended to be extra attentive at:
Many animals are very active at dusk and dawn and also search their drinking water in streams and lakes, and many lakes are close to roads. During the various hunting seasons, game animals get nervous and move around more erratically than usual.
If you hit an animal you call the Emergency Number 112 and report viltolycka (wild animal accident). Accidentally hitting an animal is not a crime, but not reporting the incident is. If the animal has disappeared out of sight, you must mark the spot where you saw it last and your car should be equipped with a special paper ribbon for this purpose. With this lead, a trained hunter with a sniffer dog will be engaged to track down the possibly wounded animal. Do not attempt to bring any bigger animal out of its miseries, unless you are a police officer or otherwise trained professional.
Incidentally, hunting is one of the foremost and proudest national pastimes and experienced people can be consulted and summoned in practically every single community.
Some useful words and phrases that might be seen on various road signs
Parkering förbjuden – No parking
Förbjuden / Förbjudet – Forbidden, prohibited
Höger – Right
Vänster – Left
Sakta – Slow
Nästa – Next
Infart – Entrance
Utfart – Exit
Avfart – Highway exit
Påfart – Highway entrance
Fart – Speed
Sänk farten – Reduce speed!
Farthinder – Speed bumps
Tänk på hastigheten – Watch your speed!
Skola – School
Vägarbetsområde – Road construction area
Viltstängsel upphör – End of wild animal fence
Akta barn – Mind the children
M – Meeting zone, passing place on otherwise single track narrow roads
Grusväg – Unpaved road
Enskild väg / Privat väg – Private road
Ej genomfart – No thoroughfare
Vägen avstängd – Road closed
Stängd / Stängt – Closed
Följ skyltar – Follow signs
Verkstad – Mechanic workshop
Däckverkstad / Däckservice – Tire workshop / Tyre service
Rum – Rooms, meaning Vacancies
Lediga rum / Rum lediga – Vacant rooms
Frukost – Breakfast
Hantverk / Hemslöjd – Handicrafts
Gårdsbutik – Farm produce store
Honung – Honey
Potatis – Potatoes
Ägg – Eggs
Äggbod - Eggs for sale
Självplock – Pick it yourself
Jordgubbar – Strawberries
Hjortron – Cloudberries
Blåbär – Blueberries
Lingon – Lingonberries
Hallon – Rasberries
Smultron – Wild strawberries
Sylt – Jam
Saft – Juice
Mjölk – Milk
Kött – Meat
Vilt / Viltkött – Wild game / Wild game meat
Ren – Reindeer
Älg – Elk / moose
Fisk – Fish
Rökt / Rökeri – Smoked / Smokery
Brandstation / Brandkår – Fire station / Fire brigade
Sjukhus – Hospital
Kafé – Café
Värdshus – Inn
Vandrarhem – Hostel
Köpcentrum – Shopping centre
Livs / Livsmedel – Foods, meaning Supermarket
Mat – Food
Snabbmat – Fast food
Grill – Grill bar
Gatukök – Snack bar
Stad – City
By – Village
Kommun – Municipality
Län – County
Sevärdhet – Place of interest
Färja – Ferry
Bil – Car
Lastbil – Truck, lorry
Långtradare – Semi-truck, articulated lorry
Varning – Warning
Halka – Slippery or icy conditions
Väg – Road
Gata – Street
Gränd – Alley
Trottoar – Pavement
Gångväg / Gågata – Pedestrian zone
Cykelväg – Bicycle zone
Flygplats – Airport
Bro – Bridge
Berg / Fjäll – Mountain / fell
Skog – Forest
Flod / Älv / Fors – River, rapids
Å – Stream, creek, brook, burn
Ö – Island
Holme – Islet
Badstrand / Strand – Beach
Badsjö – Lake for bathing
Badplats – Outdoor bathing area
Bad – Indoor or outdoor bath, pool, spa
Badhus – Indoor bath, pool, spa
Simbassäng – Swimming pool
Äventyrsbad – Adventure water park
Bastu – Sauna
Nöjespark – Amusement park
Djurpark – Zoo
Intoxicated and careless driving
Do not even think about driving after you have drunk even one beer. The legal limit is .02, which is only a quarter of the limit in the United States, Canada and Britain. Police, at any time, can take blood by force and, if you are over the limit, it's almost automatic jail time. It is also likely that you, as a foreigner, will be held in custody awaiting trial (although this time will be deducted from your jail time) for the fear that you might try to leave the country. Also, since this is Scandinavia, the fine will be based on your pretax income (dagsböter in Swedish), and can therefore be extremely high. Taking the car keys or similarly disabling a would be drunken driver is considered a responsible and heroic act. Please also bear in mind that offering alcohol to someone you know will be driving (e.g. at a party) can be illegal, although it is up to the attorney to prove that you possessed this knowledge.
Driving while intoxicated with medicines or illegal drugs are also very serious offenses, with severe punishments.
There are (starting in 2014) restrictions regarding using a mobile phone while driving in Sweden. For example texting and driving is not accepted, but dialing and driving might be. As the law is new no one really knows. Do remember though that being inadvertent in traffic is a serious offense, so exercise caution and do not take any unnecessary risks. Better being safe than sorry!
Keep a safe distance if you spot a vehicle being driven carelessly, and try to get hold of the police.
Keep in mind when trying to overtake a lorry with trailer. That these are often longer than in other European countries. Maximum length is 25.25 meters instead of 18 meters 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. It's not uncommon to meet these lorries on narrow, curvy rural roads fully loaded with timber. If so, slow down, keep out or find a place wide place to meet, if the road is really narrow.
Around the Midsummer holiday in Sweden (Middle of June) roads all over the whole country is extremely busy and there are many accidents. Try to avoid driving long distances that time of the year and if you drive under Midsummer, be careful and keep the speed limits.
During the summer season there are many fruit stands by the roads selling mostly strawberries but other berries and fruits as well. A nice way to get to know the locals.