Some tips and points for driving in S.A.
For the most part, it’s safe and incident free as long as one pays attention.

However, there are certain things that all South Africans do by force of habit, that is second nature to them.  These may seem extreme to you, but they’re just force of good habit.  Like other countries, South Africa has it share of bad drivers but driving defensively is best antidote and also half-expect motorists to do stupid manoeuvres such as overtaking on blind curves, driving drunk or at unblieveably high speeds.


It is compulsory to carry your driving license with you at all times in South Africa .  If you do get a speeding fine, South Africa has only recently begun a points-based penalty system.  Not too sure what this means for foreign visitors, but you may want to double-check before travel (or stick to the speed limits).  Points withstanding - what it will mean is that the rental company will get the fine, and will take the fee off your credit card and no doubt add on an admin fee.

At all times, make sure your doors are locked when driving.

If driving in remote areas, or driving through lower-income areas, or driving after dusk, it is advisable to have your windows rolled up (if you need air, roll them down a fraction, but not enough to get a hand through).

It’s best not to tempt fate (ie don’t have bags visible on the passenger seat or the rear seat, or even on the floors.  It’s too easy to break a window, grab a bag and run.  Bags should be stowed under the seats or in the boot).

At intersections and traffic lights it’s advisable to keep an eye on your mirrors for opportunists creeping up on you to pinch bags (or cars!).  If someone does try to take possessions or cars, the guidance is to give it to them without a struggle … remember that most crime in S.A. is violent and most criminals will have a weapon of some shape.

A general guide is that urban areas are 60km/h, rural areas (or long-distance single carriageway roads outside urban areas) are 100 km/h, and national roads / freeways are 120 km/h.  Some urban areas will have dual carriageways … some of them will be 120 km/h, others 100 km/h and others 80 km/h … watch your signs.

On some roads, it would be wise to drive under the speed limit because of bad road surfaces and other hazards; on some rural roads, hitting a large pothole at 100 km/h could cause serious damage or injury.

In addition to hazards, the traffic department does not have to give notice or warning of speed cameras in South Africa , and traffic enforcement officers can hide in bushes / unmarked vans / disguised vans / dustbins / etc., in order to trap you, using anything from radar, to cameras, to lines on the road.

It's worth noting that the traffic department has in the past used video footage submitted by members of the public to get convictions, so beware of not stopping correctly at Stop streets or traffic lights, even if you can’t see a police car.  There could be members of the public in an unmarked car, keeping an eye out for people running red lights, or even stopping with a wheel over the line, or people not stopping completely at stop streets. These members of the public will use cameras or video cameras, submit the footage to the police, and they’re paid a commission rate for successful convictions.

You may find oncoming traffic flashing their lights at you … this may mean one of the following: 

There is a speed camera ahead / there is an accident ahead / there is a police check ahead / there is a hazard ahead. It's advisable to slow your speed and keep alert.

Driving is on the LHS.


Driving on motorways:

At all times, keep left, pass right (lorries are meant to only occupy the slow lane, but may overtake occasionally)

Although it’s not the law (and, strictly speaking, not legal), most motorists will pull over into the hard shoulder on long-distance roads, to allow faster traffic to pass them.  If someone pulls over to let you pass, it’s customary to thank them by switching on your emergency indicators for about 3 or 4 flashes.  If a car comes up behind you and flashes their headlights at you, they’re asking you to pull over to let them pass.  You are officially advised not to do this, as it can be dangerous, especially on rises, bends, or nearing intersections.  However, many motorists will view it as a courtesy on S.A. roads and you may wonder why the car ahead is pulling over or why the car behind is flashing their lights.  If you decide to do it, remember to watch your signs about what’s happening on the hard shoulder, and don’t do it on inclines, blind rises or bends, where you can’t see the hard shoulder ahead of you.


Types of roads:

There are four main classification of roads in South Africa.  "N" roads denote national routes and generally connect large cities to another. For instance the N3 highway connects Johannesburg and Durban while the N1 connects Beit Bridge on the Zimbabwe border with Johannesburg and Cape Town.  Most national routes are tolled and are generally in excellent shape.  'M" roads denote motorways but might not be a national route.  "R" roads are secondary highways and a generally two lane highways and are variable in quality, some are in excellent shape while some are an obstacle course in potholes.  Driving on these requires attention as potholes can be deep and large enough to damage tyres and rims.  "D" roads are local roads, some of which are untarred. Some gravel roads are in good shape but many will be corrugated and have potholes as well.


Road conditions

The state of roads in South Africa varies quite a bit. Generally road conditions on the national routes and tolled highways are as good as anywhere you find in Europe or in North America.  The "R" designated highways are more variable, with some highways being well surfaced and smooth, whereas other routes can be a gruelling test of endurance for both driver and vehicle.

On all roads, pedestrians and livestock are expected to be found and extra attention has to be paid to that.    

Breakdowns / punctures / accidents:
Considering the road conditions on some roads, the hazards on the roads (ie livestock, pedestrians on motorways, etc.) and the amount of car theft, it’s often not worth taking out anything other than the maximum insurance with your rental.  Some car rental firms offer tyre and windscreen cover at a reasonable rate. It's worth asking and comparing prices.

In the event of an accident or incident, there will normally be clear procedures / guidelines from your rental company provided in your contract or in the glove box.  These will normally involve an accident advice line, and you should also have a number for roadside assistance for breakdowns.  Check this with your rental provider before you drive off.

If there is no guidance, follow these pointers:

It is not advisable to get out of your car on the hard shoulder of the road.  You’re probably safer locked inside the car.  Consensus is to pull over as far as you can, put your emergency indicators on, and wait inside the car, with the doors locked, and ring the police on 112 on your mobile.  If it’s not the police, but a tow-truck you need, ring directory enquiries on yr mobile, or the number provided by your car rental company – normally in the glove box (called a “cubby-hole” in SA) of your car or on your key ring.

(If you need to ring directory enquiries, there are 3 mobile service providers in S.A. : Cell-C, MTN, and Vodacom.  Cell-C numbers begin with 074 or 084, MTN numbers begin with 073 or 083, and Vodacom Numbers begin with 072 or 082.  On Vodacom, directory enquiries is 110, on MTN it’s 200 and on Cell-C it’s 146.)

If there’s been an accident, unless there are injured parties, or the damage is significant, the norm is to move cars to the side of the road.

The police need to be informed of ALL accidents and incidents (even if only to give a case no. for insurance claims –sometimes that’s all you will get from the police).

Take photos with your mobile, and contact your rental company to inform them.

If you see someone else broken down, or even an accident, the police guidance is NOT to stop to help them.  Get a passenger to ring the police from your mobile and advise them that a motorist is broken down, or there’s been an accident and someone requires assistance.  Therefore, if you’re broken down, don’t expect anyone to assist you. It may happen, but mostly not.  If someone does stop to help, it’s customary to remain in your car with the doors locked, and open your window a small amount to speak to them, until you’ve established their intentions.

Stopping at intersections / traffic lights (called ‘robots’ in S.A. ?!)
Keep an eye on your mirrors. When you're stopped at an intersection, it's a good idea to leave extra room between your vehicle and the one in front, in case you need to move away in an emergency.

In cities/towns, you will often get people coming up to your car, trying to sell you anything from fruit to clothes hangers to small electronics and cleaning materials.  Official guidance is not to buy from them (although curios can be tempting).  Some people will attempt to come up to your car and automatically start washing your windscreens … if you don’t have cash to donate, you need to stop them before they start, because they will then demand payment and can be verbally abusive and some people have reported damage to their cars when they’ve been unable to pay.  If you do want your windows washed, payment amount is at your discretion, but it is a donation, so don’t be pressured into a certain amount.

This practice is now illegal in S.A., and the law may hold you as the purchaser accountable as well, so beware.

Also, the general guideline on beggars (more often than not, children and women with young children) that come to the windows to beg for money is that you should ignore them.  They can be opportunists, and even if the children are genuinely needy, they’re often being exploited by an adult waiting in the sidelines for the profit.

Often on rural roads, there will be roadside markets where they sell curios to tourists.  These can be very good value (some even take credit cards!!), but they can also be very inflated prices.  Remember that, even out in rural areas, when you leave your car, lock it up, and leave your valuables out of sight.

After dark, when approaching an intersection, whether it be with traffic lights or stop streets, most South Africans will slow down, rather than stop.  If there’s traffic, then the road rules apply.  If there is no traffic, guidance suggested to treat it as a yield, and proceed through if safe.  The traffic department has often issued this guidance in the past, as waiting by yourself at intersections after dark is not advisable.

As a general rule, when you approach a 4-way stop, the first person to reach the intersection has right of way.  If you reach the intersection at the same time as someone else, then the person on the right has right of way.

The rules governing roundabouts (called traffic circles in S.A.) are the same as the U.K. , but they have only been introduced in fairly recent history, and many drivers are unsure of how to treat them, so approach them with caution.


As a general rule, it is always considered best to park in a multi-story or a shopping centre / store car park.  Most of these will be barrier-entry with a pay-by-ticket system, and will have security staff on duty in the car parks.

If you park on the street, most parking is charged, and some may have coin meters for each bay, with the little flag and timer system, so make sure you have the coins to pay (They should take 10c, 20c, 50c, R1 and R2 - best to make sure you have a selection of change, unless you use a secure car park with a staffed pay station or electronic pay stations).  Some bays will be pay and display.

For all street parking, and with some unmanned car parks, you will normally get someone coming to you and offering to “Watch your car, boss?”  The general rule is that this should only be done by people who have been hired to do so by a registered company, they should wear a vest with a description of their company and they SHOULD offer you a card.  However, some of them will be opportunist beggars, who are trying to make some cash.

The government encourages you to use the official ones, and not to use the unofficial ones.  However, for the safety of your vehicle (some can get arsy and damage your car if you refuse them), it may be worth agreeing to it and paying them to watch your car … use your discretion.

Some "car guards" will be opportunists, but some will be quite genuine, and one or two may even top up the meter for you (you may be able to ask for that, provided you agree to pay them back in addition to the fee for watching your car). The normal rule is that you pay them when you return, and the guide is R2-R5 (depending on how long you stay).

As a guide, try not pay them in excess of R5 (as there may be someone EVERYWHERE you park, it can get VERY expensive), but they’ll let you know if they think they’ve been underpaid.

Note that even in shopping centre car parks, these ‘car guards’ can operate, and will require payment, sometimes even if they haven’t made contact with you when you arrive, they’ll come up when you return and say they’ve “watched your car”.  As a guide, it’s a good idea to pay them because they do perform a good service, but again, it’s best to look for company identification and use your discretion.

If you’re parking on the streets, always look for a parking bay.  And bear in mind that – when last checked - in S.A. it’s illegal to park facing in the wrong direction (ie if you see a bay on the RHS of the road, you can’t cross over to the RHS of the road and park facing the traffic).

Further information:

Here’s a link to the South African Arrive Alive campaign’s guides for foreign drivers: