South Africa

south africa driving

South Africa Driving Advice and Car Hire Info

Driving in South Africa-

The first thing I’d say is that, in my opinion, South Africa is one of the world’s great driving abroad destinations. The scenery is amazing, the roads are generally in great condition, infrastructure is in place in terms of service stations/rest stops etc, driving style is more European than African…whats not to like? Well, the unfortunate obvious is the ‘C’ word. Crime has unfortunately become synonymous with South Africa, though things have improved considerably in many areas in recent years, particularly since the country staged since the 2010 World Cup.

Many South African Cities still have a crime problem but thats no reason not to drive yourself if you’re sensible and keep your wits about you (as you always should when driving abroad anyway).

So, being sensible-Never have anything of value on show in your car. Never leave a bag unattended on a back seat when driving. Never have a mobile phone visible. In South African cities, hawkers patrol the lines of cars at junctions and traffic signals selling newspapers, drinks, trinkets. It takes a second for a window to be broken and a smash and grab to happen. Car Jacking is also a problem. There are a number of ruses to get you to stop – a vehicle may pull alongside and signal that there is a problem with your car. Sharp objects may be scattered in the road to burst a tyre. Objects may be thrown at your car or another vehicle or pedestrian may stage a collision. Once out of your car you may be threatened with a weapon and your vehicle taken. Don’t ever think of resisting if this happens. If you’re at all suspicious or are in a quiet area, don’t stop. Keep driving until you reach a public place where its safe to stop.Car jacking sometimes occur at stop signals or junctions. Always be aware of your surroundings at a red light when in Cities, particularly at night. Leave enough space between yourself and the car in front to manoeuvre to safety. Try not to get boxed in. If you feel threatened, check that the way ahead is clear and run the red if you need to.

Visiting a township can be a great experience…with a local guide on an organised tour. Never attempt to do this unaccompanied. In Cities stay well aware of where to avoid and steer well, well clear.  Avoid night driving in Cities as any risk will be multiplied.Aside from street crime, in my experience, drink driving can be prevalent in SA which is another reason not to drive at night. Be especially careful at weekends and holiday times too.

Another point to consider in South Africa is use of Sat Navs. Great devices, but they aren’t very street wise! i.e they don’t know whats a bad area and whats not. Therefore the shortest route may take you down back streets and away from main roads. It may even take you into a very dangerous area. Therefore, if you’re using a sat nav, keep your eyes open and if you feel you’re being directed towards a dubious area, stick to the main thoroughfare. The sat nav will re-calibrate and should pick up the correct route again.

Durban roadSouth Africa RoadSani Pass

South Africa drives on the left and you can drive in South Africa using the licence of most EU countries but will need an International Driving permit if you only have a paper licence.On highways, overtaking can occur in any lane including the hard shoulder. On single-lane roads the hard shoulder is also sometimes used by trucks and slower vehicles to allow faster vehicles to overtake. At some intersections, including 4-way stops and where traffic lights are out of service, the first vehicle to arrive generally has priority. As a rule of thumb, make eye contact with other drivers arriving at the intersection to ensure they’ve seen you, then proceed with caution.Many of the main roads between Cities are toll roads. Given South Africa’s size it makes sense to plan your route before departing to ensure you’ll have enough time to cover the distance you want at a leisurely pace. If going on Safari check with the rental company what sort of vehicle you’ll need. It may go against the grain for travellers who want to self drive but you should consider taking a guide for at least one day you’re on safari. In my experience they’ll spot much more wildlife than you ever will and its worth the investment even if you only take take a guide once. You can arrange a guide at most National Parks.

The South African Garden Route is one of the most popular self drive trips in the world and I cover this in more detail in my Classic Roadtrips pages.

The Sani Pass into Lesotho is also a classic route covered in Roadtrip Tales

Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.

South Africa Car Rental –
Sixt, Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, have branches throughout the country. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites  and Web discount sites such as Expedia

We currently have no local car rental partners in South Africa. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on

South Africa Self Drive Rules –
It sounds like the big companies change their rules regularly so check at the time of booking. Generally you will be able to take cars to Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, and Swaziland. There may be a charge for this. International and ‘in country’ One way rentals are also generally possible. Camper hire will incur different rules and you should check out terms and conditions before making a reservation.


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