Motoring in Sweden

by Tina Holmboe 25th of May 2010 (archive)

What goes around comes around — and this one comes around every year, regular as taxes. The chaps over at Motormännen (the Motor Men) has taken a look at speed, and concluded that every other driver breaks the speed limit (in Swedish).

Since it appears there are several myths surrounding traffic in Sweden, even among the Motor Men, I’ve decided to write an introduction for those among you who are culturally challenged — aka Not From Here.

The lowest posted speed limit on Swedish roads is 30 kilometres per hour. Whenever you see it, be warned that it signals possible obstructions — there may be all sort of things blocking your progress; speed bumps and children most commonly. Both can be ignored, but remember that colliding may damage your paintwork.

Then there’s 40 km/h — not too common, and it doesn’t really mean anything. It, along with 50 and 60, translate to 70 and is the common limit in residential areas. No matter where you go in Sweden, the roads are wide, straight and with not a single curve in sight.

In rural areas you’ll often find 70 posted — this, logically, translates to 90, and is particularly amusing on curved roads. Of which there are none, of course, so you need never worry about reaching a turn you can’t make. Please note that, naturally, I assume you could handle any curve at any speed, if there were any. Which there ain’t.

Some places may post 90 km/h, which is a little confusing. You can safely stick with 110, which is the normal limit on motorways — but here is where it gets tricky. In a 110 zone, the real limit is 110 plus 29.9, or nearly 140. Why, you ask? Theoretically the cops will leave your license intact until you are 30 above the limit. That is, if there were any cops on the roads.

And, finally, 120 — or, more correctly, 150. This limit exist only on some, very few, hardly any, roads. As with all the others, it is worth noting that it is, of course, a minimum limit.

With speed out of the way, let’s turn to the topic of lanes. On a normal Swedish road the right–hand lane are for those going at the speed limit plus ten, the middle for those going at limit plus twenty, and the left lane for those driving at proper speeds.

Changing lanes are simple, just turn the steering wheel left or right. It is customary to maintain a vigilant observation of other drivers, specifically their heads. A desire to change lane is indicated by head movements, so to avoid obstructing anyone you should look left and right and make sure you brake in time to let them in. Most modern high–end cars such as BMW and Audi are sold without indicator lights.

Overtaking is done wherever you want, on the right or left hand side. Should you encounter traffic coming towards you then flashing your high–beams and sounding your horn is the normal way of telling them that they are in the wrong lane. After all, every Swedish road has three lanes in each direction with a soft separator between them.

The high–beam is also the preferred method should you come up behind someone going at the minimum limit, and you need to pass. Make sure you are as close as possible without actually touching, then turn your high–beams on. This will clear the road.

All roads have wide shoulders. These are there so that in case of queues you have somewhere to drive.

Parking in Sweden is quite easy: stop the car at the closest point of entry to where you are going. That’s it. Most stores have extra large parking spaces just in front, normally marked with a symbol depicting a man in a strangely shaped two–wheeled car. If these are missing, parking there is fine anyway; the distance from the store may be too large otherwise.

With these simple rules firmly in mind you’ll do nicely in Sweden. You may not be driving very reponsibly, or safely, but you will be driving very Swedishly …