Some tips and points for driving in S.A.
For the most part, it’s safe and incident free. Much of the warnings in this article apply to urban areas more than to smaller cities and towns.

There are certain things that all South Africans do to be safe, by force of habit, that is second nature to them.  These may seem extreme to you.

Driving:
It is compulsory to carry your driving license with you at all times in South Africa . If you get a speeding fine, the car rental company will pay the fine, and will charge that sum 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.  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.

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.

Driving is on the LHS.

Driving on motorways:

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 across the yellow line at the left of the lane onto 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.  Use your judgement; it can be dangerous, especially on rises, bends, or nearing intersections. 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.

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.

Normally there will 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 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 yr 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 – and 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 custom 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. ?!)
As mentioned earlier, keep an eye on your mirrors.

In the 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.  Even if the children are genuinely needy it is also possible that they are being exploited.  Often adults are waiting to take the money they have collected from charitable minded people .

But there is no doubt that many roadside beggars are in extreme need. If you want to help, contribute food (apples, bread) and bottles of water. And try and contribute to one of the country's many reliable and hard working charities for street children. 

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, some guidance issued was 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 within the last 7-10 years, and many drivers are unsure of how to treat them, so approach them with caution.

Parking:

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 will have the 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 by a registered company for this purpose and 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 nasty 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 of them will be opportunist, 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 will 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:  http://www.arrivealive.co.za/pages.as...

Driving Distances between major towns and cities:

This page - http://www.drivesouthafrica.co.za/dri...  - has a table that lists the driving distances between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban (the countries 3 main international airports) and all the major towns and cities in South Africa.