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Driving in Finland – what are the rules?

Finland’s roads are often free of other cars and vans for miles. But watch out for wild animals! Here’s what to check before you drive there.

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Want to escape the UK’s busy roads and motorways and enjoy traffic-free motoring for a couple of weeks? Finland’s your answer. Its well-maintained roads are often free of other cars and vans for miles, but watch out for wild animals! Here’s what to check, for you and your car, before you drive there.

‘Traffic’ and ‘jam’ are two words that are rarely used together in Finland. Traffic is light in this beautiful Nordic country that’s full of interesting lakes, massive forests and stunning scenery. And all of that makes driving there a great pleasure.

You’re well in the north when in Finland – its land borders Nordic neighbours Norway and Sweden in places and at one point all three countries come together at a spot known as Treriksroset (Three-Country Cairn). Finland also borders Russia.

Finland is known as ‘the land of the lakes’ and for good reason – 10% per cent of the country is made up of inland lakes and rivers, complementing the huge areas of land covered by forests. Less than 10% of Finland’s land is arable.

Many of the country’s roads are a driver’s dream. They are long, winding, interesting and with lots to see and admire along the way. One thing you won’t have to worry about is other traffic. Hold-ups are very rare anywhere in Finland. It’s said that if a Finnish driver has to wait five minutes, they will call that ‘a jam’.

If you are going to be held up it’s more likely to be because of elk, reindeer or other animals on the road and these should always be in mind while driving in the wilderness. Indeed, if you are flashed by another driver, it could well be because of an animal or herd just around the corner.

It’s known as one of the happiest countries in the world and the way of life is relaxed and pleasant which also makes for a good driving vacation.

And if you’re there on business, it’s also a great place to be. Finland’s industries include metal, chemical and forestry. Its capital Helsinki is home to an array of churches, cathedrals, hotels and other Art Nouveau buildings as well as more modern architecture such as the world-famous Oodi Library.

If you are considering this northern country for a vacation this year, it’s certainly a good choice for road trips. But you’ll need some careful organisation before going there. Flying in and hiring a vehicle is easy, with all the main rental companies and others, available with a wide variety of vehicles.

Driving in Finland is a completely different experience from doing so in the UK – starting with the fact that the Finns (famous for their rally drivers) use the other side of the road from us.

But it’s more than that and planning a driving holiday or using a car on business while in the country, requires careful planning and a good understanding of what you can and can’t do there.

To get the most out of your visit it’s well worth spending some time planning your trip to ensure you have everything in place. In the summer it can be warm and fine, but Nordic weather can set in hard during the winter months.

Here The Car Expert looks at the most important elements to consider when planning to drive in Finland, and we’ve included a handy checklist. As each journey is unique, always check that you have everything covered for your particular visit.

Basic rules

You must be 18 years or over to drive in Finland and you should hold a full UK driving licence. Just the licence card will do, as the paper counterpart is no longer a requirement.

If you are using your own car, you’ll need to prove that you have insurance cover so take your certificate with you (but you don’t need a European ‘green card’) and take any documents that show the identity of the car, such as a V5C ‘logbook’.

The vehicle’s ‘home country’ must be shown on it by way of ‘UK’ letters and the Union Flag incorporated into your vehicle’s number plates. If you don’t have these on your plates, you must affix a ‘UK’ sticker to its rear. The ‘GB’ badge is no longer allowed, even within European ‘golden stars’ and the same goes for country badges such as the English, Scottish or Welsh flags.

To hire a car, you must be at least 19 years old and should have held a full driving licence for at least 12 months. You might need a second proof of ID, such as your passport, as well as your driving licence.

Always make sure you are carrying the rental company’s paperwork with you to prove you are entitled to drive. Whether you are renting or using your own vehicle, always have your personal ID or passport with you.

Drink drive rules

We don’t recommend any drinking of alcohol if you are going to drive but it’s worth knowing the limits. The drink drive limit is 0.5 g/l (also shown as 0.5 milligrams or 0.05%), which is the same as Scotland. For comparison, the limit is 0.8 g/l (0.8 milligrams, 0.08%) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As in many other countries, the authorities take a hard line on drink driving. Testing is much more extensive than here in the UK – random breath and blood tests can be asked for at any time and the Finnish police claim to carry out up to 1.8 million tests a year. The same rules for the public road also apply if you are venturing off-road into the forests or onto the lakes for some ice driving.

Speed limits

Speed limits are shown in kilometres (km/h) rather than miles (mph). In most built-up areas, the limit is 50km/h (31mph). Outside of the suburban zones the limit rises to 80km/h (50mph), but this can vary so keep an eye on roadside signage. Major A-roads and highways have a 100km/h (62mph) ceiling while motorways bring a blanket 120km/h (75mph) top speed. During winter months those top two limits drop to 80km/h and 100km/h respectively.

Most traffic penalties, including those for speeding, are based on the driver’s income, so they can become quite expensive if you are caught breaking the law. Police can issue spot fines for road offences, but they don’t collect any money – it has to be paid into a bank within two weeks.

The minimum fine is €115 (£99), but for many people this could be more – the authorities divide your monthly net income by 60 and use a multiplier to increase that figure according to the amount over the limit you were caught speeding and, therefore, the severity of the fine.

There are speed and traffic enforcement cameras on roads throughout Finland, especially in more urban areas. But at least you are warned if you are in one of these zones – look for yellow road signs with a ‘camera’ image on it.

Do not use any kind of police camera detection equipment in your car. If the authorities catch you, they will take it away and issue you with a fine. Only use a mobile phone while driving if it’s completely hands-free.

What to carry in the car

As well as your documentation ensure, while motoring through Finland, that you have a warning triangle in the car in case you have to get out of the vehicle by the roadside. This is a compulsory requirement.

Make sure your lights don’t dazzle oncoming drivers. You must have beam deflectors fitted (or the ability to manually adjust your lights) and you must switch dipped lights on all the time, day or night, summer or winter. If you are flashed by an oncoming driver, it might mean you are not showing your dipped headlights.

Finnish drivers use full beam (pitkat valot) regularly while driving at night alone, and you can too. Just make sure you switch to dipped beam if you see someone else on the road.

Although not a requirement, it’s also recommended that you have a reflective jacket, a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, tow rope, spare bulbs and jump leads. Specialist suppliers, such as motoring organisations, sell ‘European driving kits’ for around £25, which contain everything you are likely to need for a holiday road trip, and they are well worth considering.

Winter tyres are compulsory throughout Finland in the winter months (1st December to 1st March). You might also consider fitting studded tyres if you’re planning to drive in the north of the country, closer to the Arctic Circle.  

Roads in Finland are generally well-maintained during the winter but don’t expect them to be salted. The authorities prefer to send out the snow ploughs. All major roads are kept open, but the police will sometimes close B-roads if the weather is especially bad.

Seatbelts

Seatbelt rules are the same as in the UK: if your car has them, they must be worn. Children less than 135cm in height must use an appropriate car child seat and infants under 3 years old must be in an appropriate baby seat. If it’s rear-facing and on the front passenger seat, you should switch the airbag off.

Driving

Keep to the right-hand lane as much as possible but if you are overtaking do so on the left. Priority is given to vehicles approaching you from the right as well as trams and emergency vehicles.  Don’t use your horn in built-up areas unless necessary, for example as a genuine warning. Out on the mountain roads, the horn can be used more readily on bends, brows of hills and when visibility is poor.

Traffic signals are red, amber and green and follow a similar pattern to the UK. You might see a green arrow rather than a light which means you can go in that direction. If there’s a red light but with a green arrow showing, you may turn but do so with caution. A flashing yellow light also means you can proceed with caution.

If you are towing a trailer or caravan, ensure that your car and the rig don’t exceed 18.75 metres in length, 4.2 metres in height and 2.6 metres in width. Make sure you can see clearly behind you with the use of two wide rear-view mirrors.

When towing a trailer up to 750kg in weight the speed limit is 100km/h (62mph). For trailers heavier than that it’s 80km/h (50mph).

Road signs

Warning signs are usually triangular and yellow with a red outline, apart from the stop sign which is red with the word ‘Stop’ written in English. Square round signs are mandatory instructions, usually with pictures, while square blue signs offer information.

Directional signs are blue or green and written in Finnish with distances in kilometres.

Fuel availability

Petrol and diesel are widely available throughout the country from more than 2,000 fuel stations. But remember that if you venture into the northern areas, such as the Lapland region, it can easily be 60 miles between fuel and service areas. They are generally open from 7am to 9pm but some operate 24 hours a day. Almost all take internationally recognised credit cards.

Toll roads

There are no toll roads in Finland and no toll bridges either. The maintenance of roads in Finland is paid for through citizens’ taxes so you can use the highways for free.

Parking

Parking is strictly controlled but well sign posted. Most cities use parking vouchers to ‘buy’ time, which can be purchased from street-side vending machines using cash or card.

Parking bays are clearly marked, as are ‘No Parking’ zones. Park badly, or for too long and your car could be towed away. There will be a fine to pay for a vehicle’s release plus costs for the towing.

Park with the car looking towards the direction of travel and leave side lights on if visibility is poor. Do not park closer than five metres from an intersection, level crossing or pedestrian crossing.

Emergency number

In Finland as with most of Europe, you can dial 112 and make contact with emergency services such as fire, ambulance or police, 24 hours a day. Operators will speak English, French and other European languages.

Checklist

Must haves:

  • Driving licence
  • Vehicle insurance
  • MOT certificate (if relevant)
  • V5C or vehicle ID
  • Passport
  • UK sticker or number plate markings
  • Warning triangle
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Winter tyres (some months)
  • Studded tyres (some months)

Options:

  • Hi-viz jacket
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare bulb kit
  • Screen wash
  • Bottled water
  • Map or satnav
  • Phone power bank
  • Torch
  • Fuel can

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.