Safety on South Africa's Roads | Good things to know
Safety on South Africa's Roads

Good things to know

Exploring Cape Town by car opens many exciting doors of adventure! To make the experience as comfortable as possible, it’s important to become familiar with some key road information. Below is a simple guide to driving in South Africa, aimed at avoiding stress and making sure you get the most out of your trip!

Driver’s Licenses in South Africa

A valid driver’s license issued from your country of residence is mandatory for driving a vehicle in South Africa. Your license should present a photo of you and must be valid beyond the date of returning your hired vehicle.

If your license is not printed in English, you will need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your home country. Although an IDP is not crucial in most other cases, it can be a useful document to have, regardless of whether or not your license is in English. Certain codes and abbreviations differ to those on South African licenses and could cause unnecessary complications when asked to present your license.

Being Stopped

Being stopped by a police person on the road can be intimidating, but don’t feel nervous. As long as you remain friendly and have your driver’s license at hand, everything should be fine!

Road Etiquette

The number one rule of South African driving is to stick to the left-hand side of the road and to overtake on the right.

Speed limits are generally 60 km/h on a public road within urban areas, 100 km/h on a public road outside of an urban area which is not a freeway and 120 km/h on freeways.

If you are driving below the average speed for any particular reason, moving over to the shoulder of the road (on the yellow line), gives way to vehicles wanting to overtake on a public road which only caters to one lane of traffic in each direction. This is not allowed before sunrise and after sunset, where visibility is reduced and potential pedestrians on the road may not be seen.

General road etiquette to keep in mind:

→ Saying thank you 

  • If a car has moved over to the shoulder of the road to allow you to overtake, flash your hazards for a few seconds once you have passed them to say thank you.
  • This can also be used when a car has let you into their lane during traffic.

(Although it is not necessary, a flash of your brights can show another driver that you have acknowledged their thank you and adds to overall politeness on the road)

→ Giving another driver a prompt 

  • If you want to let someone know that they can move into your lane or turn into the road, a quick flash of your brights will do the trick!

→ Making way

  • Some streets in Cape Town are quite narrow, especially when cars are parked on one side. Generally, cars driving on the side of on-street parking should make way for cars driving on the opposite side. When many cars are on the street, however, this becomes a one-one system.
  • Waving or lifting your hand to say thank you is common practice and keeps everyone smiling!

→ Warning others 

  • In the case of an emergency where you may need to drive slower than the average speed or stop next to the road, make sure to put on your vehicle’s hazards to alert drivers around you.
  • If traffic on the road comes to a sudden stop or slow flow, use your hazards to warn drivers behind you to slow down.

→ Waiting your turn 

  • In the event of a power-outage or loadshedding, traffic lights (or “robots” in South Africa), will flash red. This means that the intersection should be treated as a four-way stop. Although this can get confusing, it is important to wait your turn and stay alert to prevent accidents.


South African petrol stations are not self-service and so you will need to tell the petrol attendant which fuel your vehicle requires.

Fuel types kept at most stations include Unleaded 93, Unleaded 95 and Diesel. The type of engine you have and the region you are driving in will influence the type of fuel you should use. For petrol engines, it is recommended that 95 octane fuel be used in coastal regions and 93 octane fuel be used inland. Vehicles with turbo or supercharged engines should also be refuelled with 95 octane fuel.

If you are unsure about which fuel to use, don’t hesitate to ask your car hiring company for advice!

Petrol stations accept both cash and card payments.

Your Car

For long distance travelling, it is important to check from time to time that tyre pressure is still intact. Tyre pressure is measured in bars in South Africa, where 2 bars is equivalent to about 29 PSI. A sticker on the inside of the driver’s door will tell you what the correct tyre pressure for your vehicle should be.

Oil and water will usually have been checked before you receive your hired car, however, if you are doing a lot of travelling, having another look after about two tanks is not a bad idea.

Petrol stations offer these services for no additional cost, so if you aren’t too handy when it comes to cars, feel free to ask for assistance during a refuel.

Emergencies and Safety

Having jumper leads, a spare-wheel kit and a safety triangle with you when driving is vital for emergencies. These should all come included when hiring your vehicle, but make sure to double check that they are in fact there!

When leaving your vehicle parked somewhere, be sure to put any belongings in the boot (trunk) or in the cubbyhole (glove box). Try not to leave anything visible on the seats which could potentially be stolen.

In case of an emergency, a few key numbers to have saved on your phone are:

  • 10111 → For any emergencies requiring police response. Calls to 10111 are free from a landline, but will be charged at normal South African rates from a cell phone.
  • 112 → For any type of emergency, free from your cell phone. Calls to this number reach a call centre, which will route you to the emergency service closest to you.
  • 10177 → For medical emergencies.

Ask you car hiring company about “Roadside Assist” for cases in which your vehicle may be giving you trouble along the road!

Overall, make sure to wear your seatbelt at all times, keep from drinking and driving and most importantly, enjoy your holiday and the beautiful scenery that is in store for you!

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