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Driving in Sweden – what are the rules?

Fed up with busy roads and clogged motorways? Fancy a road trip where you might not see another vehicle for miles? If so, Sweden could be your answer. Here’s what to check, for you and your car, before you drive there.

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Scandinavia is known for its clear air, beautiful mountains, forests and lakes, and some of the roads that will get you to these wonderful sights are simply breath-taking.

Sweden is no exception to this rule – it’s the largest of the Nordic countries and is blessed with fine scenery, exciting cities and incredible islands dotted throughout its vast areas of water: the lakes and rivers.

Sweden is the fifth largest country in Europe but despite the vast wilderness of beauty throughout its nation, the majority of its people live in towns and cities – Stockholm, the capital, being the biggest of these. There’s also Malmo and Gothenburg.

Steeped in history, there’s wonderful architecture to be seen in its many towns and villages while memories of the Viking era are everywhere. Out on the open road you’re more likely to come across an elk or reindeer than another car in some areas. These can be a real danger on many routes and warning triangles will often feature at the roadside to warn you.

Swedish roads are a joy to drive – long, open and well-maintained, they are among the best in the world. But you need to be prepared for trips into the wilderness not least because temperatures can vary so much. Warm in the summer, Sweden can become very cold in winter months with sub-zero temperatures a regular occurrence. The coldest ever recorded temperature was minus 52 degrees C in 1966.

It’s a wealthy country and its towns and cities are home to much business and manufacture, among these the car industry, telecommunications and pharmaceutical.

If you are one of many UK motorists who is considering this Scandinavian country for a vacation this year, 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 Sweden is a completely different experience from doing so in the UK. And that isn’t just because the Swedes drive on a different side of the road from us.

It’s much 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 behind the wheel there.

So it’s well worth spending some time planning your trip and making sure you have everything in place for your northern European excursion.

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

Keep right

Like all of continental Europe and the vast majority of countries around the world, Sweden drives on the right side of the road with local cars being left-hand drive (in other words, the opposite of the UK).

Right-hand-drive cars are legal, so you can drive your own car over from the UK, but it’s less convenient for things like toll booths, parking gates or drive-through restaurants.

Licence requirements

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

You must be at least 20 years old to rent some vehicles in Sweden so check before you sign the rental agreement. Whether you are renting or using your own vehicle, always carry your personal ID or passport with you.

Taking your own car to Sweden

It’s legal to drive your UK-registered, right-hand drive car in Sweden, but remember that you have to drive on the opposite side of the road. 

If you’re 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 you must carry with you documents that show the identity of the car, such as a V5 ‘logbook’.

The vehicle’s ‘home country’ must be shown on it. Most people today have the ‘UK’ letters and the Union Flag incorporated into their vehicle’s number plates but if you don’t have this, you must affix a ‘UK’ sticker to the rear of the vehicle. 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.

You’ll also need to adjust your headlight beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. Many modern cars allow you to do this from the dashboard, while older cars will require anti-dazzle stickers to be fitted to the headlights. These are available from car parts stores or travel shops at the ferry terminal.

Speed limits

Speed limits are shown in kilometres (km/h) rather than miles (mph) and in Sweden are not based on the category of the road, but the considered safety of the route.

In built-up and suburban areas, the limit can vary between 50km/h (31mph) and 100km/h (62mph) so keep a close eye on roadside signage. Motorways have a blanket 110km/h (68mph) top speed.

Speeding fines differ greatly depending on the speed that drivers are caught. For going up to 10km/h over the limit in a built-up area, fines start at 2000 Krona (kr) (£150); up to 30km/h over its 3,600 kr (£270) and if you’re stopped going more than 35km/h over the speed limit on a motorway it’s 4,000 kr (£300).

There are speed cameras on many Swedish roads and they can often be hidden or difficult to see. You are not allowed any kind of speed camera or radar detection equipment in your car. Likewise, if your satnav unit shows where speed cameras are sited, you must de-activate this function as it’s illegal.

Don’t use a mobile phone while driving either, unless it’s completely hands-free.

Blood alcohol limit

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 0.2 g/l (also shown as 0.2 milligrams or 0.02%), which makes Sweden one of the strictest countries in the world for drink-driving. Most countries Europe – including Scotland – have a limit of 0.05%, while England and Wales are 0.08% (one of the highest limits anywhere in the world).

The police take a hard line on drink driving, so be careful even when you are getting behind the wheel ‘the next morning’. Officers can demand a breath test at any time and without reason and there are severe penalties – fines or even prison – if you are shown to be over the limit.

What to carry in the car

While motoring through Sweden, ensure you have a warning triangle in the car and make sure your lights don’t dazzle oncoming drivers – you must have beam deflectors fitted (or the ability to manually adjust your lights). You must switch dipped lights on all the time, on every road although cars sold in Sweden will have this feature automatically.

You will also need to have winter tyres fitted to your car if you are planning to drive in snow and ice between 1st December and 31st March. Some areas require you to fit snow chains too – look for local signs. If you have a trailer, this must also have the correct tyres.

Although not a requirement, it’s also recommended that you have a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, tow rope, spare bulbs, reflective jacket 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 it’s well worth considering one.

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 be in an approved child seat in the front or back of the car. Above this height they can ride on a regular seat and if they are over 140cm they can sit in the front passenger seat if the airbag is switched off.

Driving in Sweden

Keep to the right-hand lane as much as possible but if you are overtaking do so on the left.

Overtake only when you are sure it is safe to do so. There are many roads which have a dedicated lane for drivers wanting to drive slowly. They are required to keep over and let others pass them when they are not in this special lane.

Priority is usually given to vehicles approaching you from the right but look for road signs which might indicate something different. Don’t use your horn unless absolutely necessary, such as in an emergency or to prevent an accident.

Traffic signals are red, amber and green and follow a similar pattern to the UK. A flashing amber light can mean the traffic signals are faulty while a separate, smaller set of lights next to the main signals can sometimes include an arrow permitting you to drive in the direction it is pointing.

If you are towing a trailer or caravan ensure that your car and the rig don’t exceed 24 metres in length, 4.5 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.

Road signs

Road signs are usually coloured yellow with a red outline for those giving advice or warning, and blue where something is mandatory. They use pictures and therefore rarely need words. Where words are used these will be in the Swedish language except for ‘Stop’ which is in English. Most directional signs are written in Swedish with distances in kilometres.

Fuel availability

Petrol and diesel is widely available throughout the country. Swedish motorways don’t have service areas – these are sited close to exits and signs will point you there on reaching the intersection. They almost all have automatic, card-operated pumps which take internationally-recognised credit cards.

There are more than 2,500 charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) throughout Sweden.

Toll roads

There are few toll roads in Sweden and there is no fee to pay for using the motorways. However, you will have to pay tolls on some of the main bridges, such as Sundsvall, Motala and Skurubron.

Parking

Although there are wide open spaces in Sweden, its main cities can be very congested. That makes parking more difficult. It’s certainly limited in built-up areas with restricted zones shown by road signs. There are steep fines for illegal parking and while wheel clamps are not used by the police, your car can 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. If it’s not a marked parking spot you probably can’t stop there. A blue sign with a ‘P’ in it usually signals free parking but beware, this might have a time limit so check very carefully.

Do not park anywhere that the police might consider dangerous such as near an intersection, level crossing, bus or tram stop, crest of a hill or blind bend. Don’t stop in bicycle lanes or pedestrian paths.

Emergency number

In Sweden 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
  • Passport
  • Vehicle insurance
  • MOT certificate
  • V5 or vehicle ID
  • UK sticker or number plate markings
  • Warning triangle
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Winter tyres (some months)
  • Snow chains (some months)

Options:

  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Hi-viz jackets
  • 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.