South Africa is a diverse and expansive country in which public transport is, certainly by European standards, fairly limited. Most of our customers who rent cars there tell us that they want to see as much of the country as possible, so we make sure that whether you want to pick up your hire car in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban or the smaller towns of Bloemfontein, George, Port Elizabeth or Stellenbosch (to name just a few) you can return it to any of our other South African car hire rental spots, which makes seeing as much as possible, easy.
Driving in South Africa is quite simply a pleasure. They drive on the left like we do, so you can hit the road with confidence straight away. However, there are some laws and general tips you should be aware of before getting behind the wheel – here’s the lowdown:
- Drive on the left-hand side of the road!
- It’s compulsory to carry your driving licence with you, so as a matter of habit make sure you have all of your ID and rental documents with you whenever you are driving, but take them out of the car when you leave it parked.
- All passengers must wear a seatbelt – being caught without one will earn you an on-the-spot fine. If you are fined for any reason, ask the issuer for a receipt.
- Using a hand-held mobile phone is illegal.
- Just as in the UK, speed limits in South Africa vary according to the urban conditions but they’re well signposted so pay attention and stick to them. The only difference is that they’re in km/h, instead of mph.
- Don’t drive when you’re tired and make sure that at night-times in particular you remain alert. South Africa is home to plenty of wildlife and in rural areas, it’s not uncommon to see baboons on the road, or indeed snakes that come out after sunset to enjoy the warmth of the tarmac.
- Traffic lights are referred to as ‘robots’ – knowing this can save a lot of confusion when asking for directions!
- It’s a sad fact that in areas affected by poverty, car crime can be a problem. Keep your bags or valuables under the seat while you are driving, keep your doors locked and use your air conditioning to avoid having the windows wide open, particularly when driving at night.
- When on a highway, slower vehicles will often straddle the hard-shoulder line and indicate to let you pass. Only do so when you’re sure the road ahead is clear and there are no bends or hazards. Once you’ve safely passed, it’s standard courtesy to thank the slow driver by blinking your hazard lights a few time.
- Oncoming drivers who flash their headlights at you are signalling an accident, a hazard or speed trap ahead. Maintain a safe distance between you and any vehicles in front in case of sudden braking.
- The quality of road surfaces varies depending on whereabouts you travel to so watch out for pot-holes or looser verges in more remote areas.
- Toll roads operate across the country so make sure you’re carrying cash or a valid credit card to pay.
- In the cities especially, it’s common to be offered the services of a parking attendant to watch your car or someone to fill it with petrol at a service station. Similarly you can expect to be offered a windscreen wash, a newspaper or a sack of oranges at junctions with ‘robots’ - entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in South Africa! Buying any of these services is of course optional, and payment is, unless specified, at your discretion.
- Plan your journeys before setting off, travel distances can be deceptive when glancing at a map, so make sure you carry plenty of water, food, a fully charged mobile phone and know where you can refuel.
- If you need it, the emergency services number in South Africa is 112.
South Africa is a captivating place to drive in, the people, the landscape and the wildlife will all catch your eye so make sure you park up every now and then and enjoy it. Just take extra care to secure your vehicle when getting out, baboons are used to tourists and will raid your car if you make it easy for them!
If you learn any other tips or discover any road rules we haven’t already listed, please let us know and we’ll add them to this guide. Have a great trip!