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Road Safety Advice for foreigners/ tourists driving in South Africa

Overview /Background information

South Africa has much to offer for international tourists and more and more is done to ensure an enjoyable and safe stay for our international visitors. Tourism authorities in South Africa would like to promote the beauty of tourism destinations across the country – and the arrive alive website would like to assist by providing road safety suggestions to all the international visitors.

Road infrastructure/ Toll roads

  • Road infrastructure is mostly excellent with national roads maintained by the South African National Roads Agency [SANRAL]. 
  • Many of the national roads between the major centres are toll roads. Check the toll fees before you leave, and make sure that you have either a credit card or cash to pay.
  • While most national roads are tarred and in good condition, the more rural the road, the more likely it is to be pot-holed and poorly surfaced.
  • Driving is a viable option with careful planning advised as South Africa is a huge country not easily traversed in a day
  • With a good map visitors should have little difficulty in finding their way around. 
  • Current information on the conditions of roads can be obtained through the Automobile Association of South Africa. The AA also provides invaluable guides for road users in the form of strip maps tailored for specific destinations and information for tourists on accommodation and routes. 
  • Plan your journey carefully. If you're not used to driving long distances, rather break the journey, as fatigue is a major contributing factor in motor vehicle accidents. 
  • Tell your friends and family which routes you will follow and where you plan to overnight.
  • All signposts are written in English.  
  • When asking for directions, you may be surprised to get the response "turn left at the next robot..." - a 'robot' is the South African term for traffic lights.  
  • Petrol/Fuel Stations are mostly open 24 hours and spread along all the routes. They are not self-help, but manned by attendants who can also check oil, water and tyre pressure if required.  Gratuities for this service are at your own discretion. 
  • Many of these petrol stations have restaurants and restrooms - use them to freshen-up on the long drives.
  • There are three types of fuel available, leaded, unleaded and ‘dual fuel’ which can be used in place of either. 
  • Petrol prices are fixed and controlled by the government – they are payable in cash. 
  • When traveling through South Africa's neighboring countries, petrol-station are more scarce, so be prepared


Rules of the Road / Traffic Enforcement

Drivers License

  • An International Driver's Permit carried in conjunction with your national driving license is recommended and must be printed or authenticated in English.
  • If your license does not have a photograph on it, then you must also carry your passport with you so that you can be identified as the legal holder of the driving license. 
  • Please note that the car hire companies might have different regulations regarding the length of time that you need to have held a driving license, so it is advisable to check with your hire car company about their requirements.
  • Always make sure documentation is carried with you at all times when driving. 
  • Traffic officers will expect to see documentation if they stop you for any reason.

Rules of the Road

  • In South Africa we drive on the left-hand side of the road, and our cars – rental cars included – are right-hand drive vehicles.
  • Keep to the left and pass right
  • All distances, speed limits (and speedometers) are in kilometers. 
  • There are strict drinking and driving laws - with a maximum allowable alcohol blood content of 0.05%. Translated that means about one glass of wine for the average woman and perhaps 1.5 or two for the average or large man. 
  • Four-way-stops are commonly found at the quieter intersections – the first vehicle to arrive has priority.  On roundabouts, give way to the right, although this is often overlooked and it is wise to proceed with caution. 
  • Wearing of seat belts is compulsory. All occupants of a vehicle are required to wear seatbelts whilst traveling, if you are caught without you will be subject to a fine.
  • Using hand-held phones while driving is against the law – use a vehicle phone attachment or hands-free kit, if you want to speak on your mobile phone.

Speed limit

  • The general speed limit on national highways, urban freeways and other major routes is 120km/h (75mph).
  • On secondary (rural) roads it is 100km/h (60mph).
  • In built-up areas it is usually 60km/h (35mph) unless otherwise indicated. 
  • Check the road signs and obey the speed limit at all times
  • Speed limits are maximum speeds. If it is raining, misty or the road is congested, reduce speed.
  • Reduce speed near areas where there is pedestrian activity.

Safety / Protection against Criminals

When driving anywhere in South Africa, try to apply the following safety precautions:

  • Always drive with your doors locked and windows wound up, especially when stopped at traffic lights.
  • Don't ever stop to pick up hitchhikers, however innocent, lost or appealing they look.  If you are worried about someone's plight, stop at the next town and report it to someone there. 
  • Do not leave anything valuable on show in your car when you leave it unattended, and always lock your car when you leave it, even if you are only going to be gone for a few minutes.
  • Try to always park in a busy, well-lit area. 
  • Take advice from your hosts where you are staying, and ask if there are any areas that tourists should avoid driving through 
  • Do not confront aggressive or abusive road users.
  • If possible avoid traveling at night or in remote areas. 
  • Thieves have been known to employ various methods to make a vehicle stop, enabling them to rob the occupants.  One such method is the placing of large stones in the middle of the road.  In the circumstances it is prudent to carefully drive around the stones or obstacle, rather than stop the vehicle.

General tourism and road safety tips for driving in South Africa

  • Ensure that your vehicle is checked thoroughly and in good condition before embarking on a journey
  • Check your vehicle at the start of each day – check the oil and water, that all indicators and lights are functional and that tyre pressure is adequate.
  • Plan your journey beforehand to avoid unnecessary stops [e.g. off-ramps to unknown destinations].
  • If you need directions it is best to stop at a petrol station and ask the attendants.
  • Always maintain a safe following distance and switch headlights on when visibility is poor, ensuring that you are visible to all road users. 
  • Always respect the warnings on road signs – be aware that the roads in many rural areas are not fenced, so you could find dogs, chickens, sheep and even horses or cows on the road, so it may be dangerous to drive at night. 
  • Large antelope crossing the road can also be a hazard in certain areas – watch out for the road signs depicting a leaping antelope, and take it slowly, especially towards evening.

In Case of Emergency

When you need assistance, kindly call the following numbers

ER24 - 084 124

also

Police                10111
Fire                10111
Ambulance               10117
Arrive Alive Call Centre     0861 400 800
Netcare 911            082 911

If you are calling from a mobile you can also get emergency services by dialling 112.

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