Important advice for driving on South African roads

Important advice for driving on South African roads

South Africa has climbed the ranks on many “Top Travel Destination” lists, with Cape Town and Johannesburg being among the top cities in the country to visit. Before you book your accommodation and finalise plans for your holiday, be sure to read the following advice.


Hiring a car to get around is paramount to enjoying your holiday in South Africa. This is because most tourist attractions, even if they’re in the same province or city, are usually quite some distance apart. Unlike Europe, where trains and metros offer easy access in and around cities, in South Africa you mainly have to rely on private transport to get around.

Below is vital information regarding renting cars, driver’s licenses, and road and traffic rules in South Africa.

Driver’s licences

Any valid driver’s licence will work in South Africa as long as there’s a clear photograph and signature of the holder on the card or document. Also, the driver’s licence needs to be in English. If you’re contemplating hiring a car, you may be required to present an international driver’s licence. Be sure to contact the car hiring company you intend on using to clarify what you should present on the day of hire.

Driving information

  • When driving on South African roads make sure to have on you at all times your identification documents and your driver’s licence. Traffic cops often pull cars over and ask to look at licences.
  • In South Africa, we drive on the left side of the road and pass on the right.
  • South Africa measures distance in kilometres and not in miles.
  • Cars in South Africa are right-hand drive vehicles and are fitted with gear sticks instead of being automatic.
  • Fuel gauges are measured in litres instead of gallons.
  • Wearing seatbelts in South Africa is non-negotiable. You can be fined if you or your passengers are caught without wearing one.
  • Operating a mobile phone while driving is prohibited unless it’s a hand-free system.

Speed Limit

Stick to speed limits at all times, even if cars are driving faster than you. Nothing’s worse than receiving a fine on holiday which could have been used to treat yourself. So obey the traffic laws!

  • On national highways and urban freeways, the speed limit is 120km/h.
  • On rural roads, the speed limit is 100km/h.
  • Om built up areas including cities and towns, the speed limit is 60km/h.

Stay within the allocated speed limits unless otherwise instructed by traffic signs or a traffic officer.

What to do if you receive a speeding fine while driving a hired car?

Most car hiring companies will pay the fine and charge the amount incurred to your account.  An additional admin fee may be charged on top of the fine. It’s always best to discuss these things with the car hiring manager beforehand.

Drinking and driving

South Africa has a zero tolerance for drinking and driving, so please take care not to break the law. This means that if you intend on having a few drinks at a bar or restaurant, it’s best that you arrange for a cab to pick you up and drop you at home again.

  • The legal blood alcohol limit in South Africa is less than 0.05g per 100ml.
  • The legal breath alcohol limit in South Africa is less than 0.24mg in a 1000ml of breath.

This is how it works:

Based on an adult weighing 68kg, consuming one unit of alcohol per hour is acceptable. This amounts to 10ml of pure alcohol. If you weigh more than 68kg your body will process the alcohol slower which means that two drinks over the space of an hour will put you over the limit.

Here is a breakdown of units in popular alcoholic drinks:

  • A 75ml glass of wine = 1 unit
  • A 250ml glass of wine = 3.3 units
  • 1 shot = ½ unit (unless you’re taking a shot of pure alcohol such as tequila or vodka without a mix)
  • 1 spirit cooler (Barcardi Breezer, Hooch, Smirnoff, Reds, etc) = 1.25 units
  • 1 beer (not a drought) = 1.5 units or more
  • 1 cider = 2 units
  • 1 cocktail = between 2 and 4 units depending on which drink you choose.

Filling in petrol

Most cars use unleaded petrol, while off-road vehicles like 4x4s require diesel. If you’re renting a car from a car hiring company, the chances are that the car requires unleaded petrol. Fuel stations in South Africa are known as garages and can be found throughout the country, especially in cities. If you plan on travelling to the countryside it would be wise to fill up the tank before embarking on your journey as the distances between towns can often be far apart.

Petrol stations are not self-help. You need to wait for an attendant to fill the car up and check the oil, water and tyre pressure. They may also clean your car’s windscreen for you. It’s courtesy to tip them afterwards.

*Petrol is sold in litres and paid for either in cash, credit or debit cards. American Express is not usually an accepted method of payment. Most garages have ATM banking facilities in case you need to draw cash.

Hiring a car

Most reputable car hiring companies can be found at the airport and in most cities. Some car hiring companies may arrange for the car to be brought to you at the airport. It is advisable to read the car hiring company’s terms and conditions before settling on a decision.  If your destination is Cape Town contact Betta Car Hire, a reputable car hiring company based in Kenilworth, not far from Cape Town International Airport.

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