- Apr 21, 2011
The BBC drives the one road where seat belts are illegal
Europe's Longest Ice Road – Click above for high-res image gallery
Europe's longest ice road stretches 16 miles across the Baltic sea and connects mainland Estonia with the island of Hiiumaa. This may be the only road on the planet where seat belts aren't just a bad idea, they're illegal. If the ice gives way here, you need to be out of your car so quickly that removing a seat belt could be a potentially lethal waste of time.
The BBC decided to see for itself what kind of crazy you have to be to willingly accept commuting on a surface like the ice road. Apparently, Estonians love it for being much cheaper than the available ferries, which sometimes get jealous and run in to the frozen road. Still, Jeep Grand Cherokee at the ready, the BBC's intrepid journalists set off on a journey into the frozen unknown.
Not only are safety restraints against the law on the ice road, it's illegal to go any slower than 25 mph, which seems somewhat counter intuitive. Most of the time, the slower you can go on a slick, unpredictable surface the better, despite what Bentley may tell you. On frozen water, though, tires create dangerous vibrations between 16 and 25 mph that could crack the ice, leaving you up to your neck in the deadly cold Baltic. Thus, the recommended speed on the ice road is a pretty brisk 43 mph.
That may not seem like much, until you learn that the road is full of potholes and bumps, as well as being laced with wide gashes in the ice bridged by rough-hewn lumber. Between the dips, potholes, bumps, gashes and shaky bridges, the road is a fairly sensitive beast, which means cars over 2.5 metric tons are also banned.
Despite all its follies and hidden dangers, the route is widely traveled during Estonia's long winter, and sometimes stays open as late as March. Even with a relatively high traffic volume, there were no accidents on the road during the 2010-2011 season, which came to a close at the end of last month.
[Source: BBC News | Image: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images]