Generally, it is safe to drive on our streets; South Africa has an excellent and reliable road network.
Not all South African roads are paved or tarred. We have many sand roads, and though they are graded annually, they might be a challenge to drive on, in any weather. The corrugated sand roads can be very tiring to navigate, find a good speed to drive and, if needed, deflate your tires a bit, remember to pressurise them again.
Documents you will need
South African citizens require a valid driver’s license to drive on our roads. As a foreigner, you will need either an official English or translated into English, version of your license or your original driver’s license accompanied by an international driver’s license as well as your passport. Your local licensing department should know how you can get a valid international driver’s license.
Having an international driver’s license in English works best.
Rules of the road
Be acutely aware of speed zones, these are generally well indicated, change often and are well policed, expect to see speed traps throughout your travels.
On the lighter side, you may see some quirky road signs, bordering on the hilarious. However, be aware, these road signs are there for a reason!
Unfortunately, some of our roads are not as well maintained as we would like them to be. Be aware of potholes; they can be dangerous. These occur more often during our rainy season between September and March in the northern part of the country.
Once out of the cities and into the rural areas you can expect other types of hazards, like domesticated farm animals, which are not unusual on our roads. However, these are not the most fascinating when bordering wildlife reserves. It is not uncommon to meet some of its inhabitants outside the fences. While inside game reserves drive slowly, between 10 and 40 km/h, you will never know what could cross the road or what may lie on the side of the road.
Though South Africa is not a criminal heaven as sometimes portrayed, here are some tips to avoid be pray to opportunists:
- If you see something that resembles a dead body on the side of the road, ignore it or report it, but keep driving.
It may be a way to lure you and steal your car and cargo.
- The same can be said of children in distress or children in general.
- Keep your windows closed when driving in busy areas to avoid smash and grabs.
- If you are being followed, or feel insecure while driving because of another driver’s behaviour, drive straight to the nearest police station. Don’t stop.
There are regular protests in South Africa; these are best avoided. Your hotel or lodge will advise you if the need arises.
Always abide by officer’s requests!
Should something feel off you can ask the officers to escort you to the nearest police station for further clarification. You can also ask for their identity as officers, and this is commonly called a “warrant card”.
As a rule, never give officers cash even if they ask for it (this action is considered a bribe!) and let them keep your licences, insist then that they take you to the police station!
Lastly, some bad apple may tell you that they are hungry or thirsty, this is a common practice to ask for a bribe. Please, do not give these officers anything.
Driving at night
We would highly recommend that you do not drive at night. In addition to the hazards mentioned earlier, we have some cars and trucks without tail lights or headlights on our roads, and our streets are not lit except for some highways and urban areas.
When driving around, getting lost is the last thing you want.
There are many maps available to help you with your journey, and some of the better ones are free from the information desks at the airports or car rental agencies, but physical maps are getting rare and updated sporadically.
GPS Navigation has become very reliable in South Africa, now that most mobile smartphones have GPS and maps with guidance, you should consider using them.
The ones we experienced the most accuracy with are:
There are others, but our team has not experienced them.