Travelling by Road
Useful bits and pieces
The roads infrastructure in South Africa is generally good. Traffic drives on the left hand side and distances on road signs are given in kilometres.
The wearing of seat belts is compulsory and the use of hand-held cell phones whilst driving is illegal. Hands-free kits are allowed.
Speed limits are usually clearly indicated. Generally, the speed limit is 120km/h on freeways, 100 km/h on major roads outside built-up areas, 80km/h on major roads within built-up areas are and 60 km/h on normal city roads.
In remote places, you will often be driving on unpaved "dirt" roads. Most of these are perfectly suitable for use in a normal car, but there are exceptions. Ask the locals if you are heading off into uncharted territory and uncertain about the roads.
Fuel is sold by the litre, is regulated by the state and is not unreasonably expensive. Most fuel stations in urban areas and along freeways are open 24 hours a day. In small country towns this may not always be the case, although they will be open during daylight hours at least. All fuel stations are serviced. There are no self service pumps. It is customary to tip pump attendants R5 for their efforts, which usually includes a windscreen wash.
Driver behaviour in cities tends to be aggressive. In the countryside driving is more relaxed.
On multi-lane roadways, the principle of keep-left, pass right, is often not adhered to.
South Africa has a high rate of traffic accidents, the majority involving pedestrians. You should at all times exercise caution when driving, especially at night in urban areas. Drive defensively and watch out for unsafe drivers (minibus taxis), poor lighting, cyclists and pedestrians.
Do not leave belongings visible inside the car, either when driving, or when parked.
Speeding and the skipping of traffic lights are policed with stationary and portable cameras, and the authorities have built an extensive network of these. It has significantly reduced speeding in South Africa over the last decade.
The legal blood alcohol limit in South Africa is 0,05 g per 100ml of blood. If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, there is a fair chance that you will spend the night in a holding cell at a police station – an experience that is to be avoided.
In general, the police are honest, and they respond to politeness and deference to their authority. Be firm when it looks as if a bribe is in the offing.
If your driver's licence is in any of South Africa's 11 official languages (e.g. English, but not German) and it contains a photo and your signature integrated into the licence document, it is legally acceptable as a valid driver's licence. However, some car rental and insurance companies may still insist that you provide an International driver's permit. It is generally best to acquire an International driver's permit in your country of origin, prior to starting your journey, regardless of whether your licence is legally acceptable or not.