South Africa Driving Guide

South Africa is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

2023-11-28 · 9min read
Cloud Capped Mountain Overlooking Golf Course and Stadium
Source: Photo by Alberto Di Maria on Unsplash

South Africa is a land of breathtaking beauty, filled with abundant wildlife, natural resources, and diverse cultural heritage. It is a place where the dreams of adventurers and nature lovers come to life, offering a canvas of scenic landscapes and safari expeditions.

However, if you are looking into visiting and driving in South Africa, the country's high accident rate might concern you.

A study has brought to light that South Africans rank among the world's least proficient drivers, marked by an exceptionally high incidence of fatal road accidents. In the global context of fatal road accidents, South Africa stands out as the country with the highest number of such incidents.

Consider Driving in South Africa

Endless Road Through the Savannah
Source: Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash

While it's important to be mindful of South Africa's high accident rate, don't let it overshadow the incredible experiences that await you. Many of these incidents occur due to factors that can be mitigated by responsible driving.

Some foreign tourists have had positive experiences driving in South Africa.

We found driving in South Africa, and the Western Cape an absolute pleasure. The roads are primarily well-laid and practically signed. Besides the main, wide motorway routes into Cape Town and in Cape Town, we found very little traffic. Rush hour, like anywhere else, sees snarled-up, slow-moving lines of vehicles but if you avoid these times you’ll often feel you have the road almost to yourself.Traffic in Cape Town itself, in the Waterkant and City Centre areas, was busy but nowhere near as bad as, say London or New York.

Simon, a traveler and CEO of two software companies, shares in his post Driving In South Africa and The Western Cape – How To Stay Safe, published on the Reluctant Backpacker travel blog.

We've put out this guide so you can safely enjoy the breathtaking beauty and rich cultural heritage of South Africa. With the right precautions, your South African road trip can be an unforgettable adventure.

Let's Take a Closer Look at South Africa

Sunrise View Over Cape Town and Lions Head
Source: Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash

Before diving deeper into South Africa's driving culture, here are some interesting facts about this country:

Geographic Location

South Africa is located in the African continent that borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west. It is a dry country with no natural lakes its water is the dams and rivers is only about 4620 sq km, which is only .38% of South Africa's total land area.

South Africa has a total land area of 1,221,037 sq km; it is the 9th biggest country over the 55 African states and the 24th largest country globally. South Africa's country is twice the size of France and five times bigger than the UK. It is larger than every European country except Russia and every state of the USA except Alaska.

Linguistic Diversity

Historically, Afrikaans, Dutch, and English were the primary languages in South Africa. Today, the nation recognizes 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa, isiNdebele, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga.

IsiZulu is the most widely spoken language, used by about 23% of the population, followed by isiXhosa at 16%, Afrikaans at 13.5%, and English at 10%. The other languages, including Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda, and isiNdebele, are also integral to the nation's rich linguistic variations.


Inhabited for thousands of years, South Africa saw significant migrations by Bantu Tribes, whose languages are still spoken widely. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in 1488, followed by establishing a Dutch East India Company settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652.

Subsequent European settlers, including the French, Germans, and Dutch, became known as the Afrikaners. After gaining independence in 1961, South Africa underwent a significant transformation, abolishing apartheid in 1994 under the African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela.


Transitioning to a full multiracial democracy in April 1994, South Africa's government is a federal system once dominated by a white minority. It now includes representatives of mixed races and is headed by a president elected through proportional representation. The nine provincial legislatures nationwide elected the National Council of Provinces, consisting of 90 seats.


The number of tourists that visit South Africa has been increasing, and in 2018 it reached over 16.44 million. South Africa is the second leading country in the African continent in terms of its international tourist arrivals.

International Driving Permit FAQs

If you're planning to drive in South Africa, having an International Driver's Permit in South Africa can benefit you. Like other countries, South Africa also recognizes these permits, which the United Nations oversees.

This permit can add an extra layer of security by validating your original driving license, especially if you face an accident. If you have a British license or any other license printed in English, you can drive in South Africa with ease.

However, if the license isn't in English, you will need to secure an International driver's permit in South Africa.

Is a Local Driver's License Valid in South Africa?

First, we would like to clarify that there is no International Driver's License but rather an International Driver's Permit.

Endorsed by the United Nations, an International Driver's Permit protects motorists driving in foreign countries, including South Africa. This legal document confirms the validity of a foreign citizen's driver's license and can ease complications arising from road mishaps.

Drivers with licenses in English, like those from the UK, can comfortably drive in South Africa. But for licenses not in English, an IDP becomes necessary for legal and easy driving, especially when renting a car and using public roads.

Is IDP Required in Various Regions of South Africa?

In South Africa, foreign driver's licenses in English are generally accepted for driving. However, you will need an IDP if your license is in a different language.

This is particularly important as foreign licenses are valid for only three months in South Africa, after which a local license is required.

Does an IDP Replace a Native Driver's License?

An IDP should be viewed as an additional document for your original driver's license, not a substitute one. It is a translation and should be carried alongside your native driver's license.

If you plan to work as a driver in South Africa or apply for residency, you may need to obtain a local driving license, for which attending a driving school in South Africa might be necessary.

Renting a Car in South Africa

Renting a car is optimal for immersing yourself in South Africa's captivating landscapes and scenic drives. It allows you to explore renowned locations like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, and the country's national parks at your own pace.

Opting for a rental car in South Africa is not only budget-friendly due to competitive rates, but it also offers convenience, especially when traveling with family or friends. The process is straightforward and can be done comfortably without the hassle of driving a foreign-registered vehicle in South Africa.

Before proceeding, it’s crucial to consider key factors like the type of car to rent, rental agreements, and requirements.

Car Rental Services

International rental companies like Avis, Bidvest, and Europcar operate in South Africa. You can conveniently compare and book vehicles online from these providers, ensuring you find a car that best suits your travel needs. Customer reviews can guide you in selecting a reliable rental service.

Required Documents

To rent a car in South Africa, you must be at least 18 years old with a year’s driving experience. You'll need to present a valid local driver's license; an International Driver's License may be required for non-English licenses. Given South Africa's high traffic incident rates, always secure travel insurance

Choosing the Right Vehicle

Different vehicles suit different travel needs. Sedans and compact cars are ideal for city driving, while 4x4 campervans are better suited for rough terrains and outdoor adventures.

Car Rental Cost

Rental costs in South Africa start at around $12 per day, varying based on the vehicle type and additional services or insurance. Typical rental options include:

  • Economy: $11/day
  • Standard: $18/day
  • Minivan: $40/day
  • Full-size SUV: $36/day
  • Premium SUV: $246/day
  • Intermediate SUV: $27/day
  • Compact SUV: $40/day

Age Requirements

Renters must be at least 18 years old, with varying age requirements depending on the vehicle type and rental location. Young drivers under 25 might incur additional charges.

Car Insurance Policy

South Africa has a high rate of road incidents, including collisions, pedestrian and cyclist accidents, and vehicle-related crimes like robbery and carjacking. This reality underscores the importance of having insurance when renting a car in South Africa.

Various coverage options are available, each with its own set of protections and limitations. Key insurance options include the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW), Tire and Windshield coverage, and Theft Protection waiver.

Car Insurance Cost

Selecting the right car rental that includes insurance in their package is crucial. Many car rental companies in South Africa include insurance costs in their standard rental fees, while others may charge it as an additional expense.

If your rental car doesn't have insurance, it's wise to use international car rental insurance. The insurance cost varies depending on the type of coverage offered by the rental company and the number of insurance options you choose.

Road Rules in South Africa

Going on a journey through South Africa's breathtaking landscapes requires more than just enthusiasm – it necessitates a thorough understanding of the local driving and road rules. Let's delve into the key guidelines to ensure your trip through South Africa's scenic vistas remains trouble-free and enjoyable.

Alcohol Limits for Driving

In South Africa, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is set at 0.05 grams per 100 milliliters of blood. This applies to both locals and tourists alike. Drunk driving is a severe offense in South Africa, punishable by fines up to ZAR 120,000 and possible jail time of up to six years.

To steer clear of legal troubles and ensure safety, avoid driving under the influence of alcohol.

Mobile Phone Usage

Using a mobile phone while driving in South Africa is prohibited unless connected to a hands-free system. This rule is in place to prevent distractions and ensure your focus remains on the road for everyone's safety.

Parking Precautions

When parking in South Africa, avoiding isolated streets and opting for well-populated areas or designated parking facilities is advisable. Ensure your car is locked and valuables are not left in sight to deter theft. Parking in improper areas may result in additional charges.

Driving Orientation

In South Africa, driving is done on the left-hand side of the road. For tourists accustomed to right-side driving, this may require some practice. Before venturing onto busy roads, familiarize yourself with this orientation in a safe area.

Speed Limits

In South Africa, the unit of measurement they use for their speed limit and speed limit signs is Kph (kilometers per hour); South Africa is one of the 91% of countries that operate Kph instead of Mph (miles per hour).

Speed limits in South Africa vary based on the road type and location:

  • Urban areas: 60 km/h (approximately 37 mph)
  • Secondary roads: 100 km/h (approximately 62 mph)
  • Highways: 120 km/h (approximately 75 mph)

Speeding violations carry fines that depend on the exceeded limit and location. Always adhere to the posted speed limits to avoid penalties.

Seatbelt Compliance

Seatbelts are mandatory for all passengers in South Africa. Compliance with this rule is not only a legal requirement but also a critical safety measure.

Driving Directions

South Africa boasts well-signposted roads, often with English translations. Planning your route and utilizing maps or navigation apps can enhance your driving experience.

Traffic Signs and Right of Way

Familiarize yourself with local traffic signs, including regulatory, warning, and guidance signs. At four-way stops, the first vehicle to arrive has the right of way. In roundabouts, vehicles from the right are prioritized. At traffic lights, yield to oncoming traffic when turning right, even on a green signal.

Regulatory signs include control signs, command signs, comprehensive signs, prohibition signs, and reservation signs:

  • Stop
  • Go
  • Yield sign
  • Turn Left sign
  • Turn Right sign
  • Roundabout sign
  • Pedestrians only sign
  • Residential area sign
  • Single-carriage way freeway begins sign
  • Parking prohibited sign
  • U-turn prohibited sign
  • Parking reservation sign
  • motor car reservation sign

Warning signs include:

  • crossroad sign
  • T-junction sign
  • Side road congestion sign
  • Sharp curve sign
  • Two-way traffic crossroad sign
  • General warning sign
  • Emergency flashlight sign

Guidance Signs includes local direction, tourism guidance signs, and tourism general service signs:

  • Airport sign
  • Central Business Center sign
  • Parking sign
  • National park sign
  • Conservancy area sign
  • Marine reserve sign
  • Straight-on arrows sign
  • Left/right arrow sign
  • Motor cars sign
  • Bus sign

The minimum legal age to drive in South Africa is 18. Ensure you meet this requirement to operate a vehicle legally.

Overtaking Rules

Understand and respect overtaking rules. You can overtake lanes marked with dashed lines, given it's safe with no oncoming traffic. Avoid overtaking in prohibited areas marked with double lines. A customary 'thank you' gesture in South Africa involves briefly flashing your vehicle's hazard lights after overtaking another car.

Following these guidelines will keep you within the confines of South African law and contribute to a safer and more enjoyable road trip experience. Remember, driving is a privilege with responsibilities – stay informed and drive safely!

Driving Etiquette in South Africa

Navigating the roads in South Africa requires more than just knowing the rules of the road. Understanding and adhering to the local driving etiquette is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.

Car Breakdowns: Steps to Follow

If your car breaks down, whether on a highway or in a remote area, here’s what to do:

  1. Move your car safely off the road, away from traffic, and turn on your hazard lights. If you cannot move the car, exit it safely.

2. Contact roadside assistance, which is usually included in your rental car's insurance

3. Follow the instructions provided by the assistance service and wait for their arrival.

4. Stay vigilant and remain inside your vehicle. It’s safer to wait for professional help
than to seek assistance from passing motorists, as this can expose you to potential
harm or robbery.

Police Stops: How to Respond

In South Africa, police have the authority to stop any vehicle. If you are pulled over:

1. Comply with the officer’s signal, reduce speed, and pull over safely.

2. Present your identification, driver’s license, and International Driver’s Permit (IDP)
when requested.

3. If asked to undergo a breathalyzer or blood test, cooperate. Remember, driving under
the influence is a serious offense in South Africa with substantial penalties.

4. Drive legally to avoid complications – driving without a valid license or with missing
number plates can lead to trouble.

Asking for Directions Safely

In the quest for directions, ensuring personal safety is paramount, particularly in unfamiliar environments. Remember the following measures when seeking the right direction:

  1. Avoid asking for directions from strangers on highways or outside the roads due to safety concerns.

2. Use maps or navigation apps for directions.

3. If necessary, ask for directions at gas stations for added safety.

4. Keep your windows closed and doors locked while driving.

When encountering checkpoints on South African roads, adopting a composed approach and understanding the protocol is key to a smooth passage.

Below are some practical advice you need to remember:

1. Approach checkpoints calmly and reduce your speed.

2. Keep your car lights on at night and lower the volume of your radio.

3. Checkpoints are for safety and law enforcement, including checking possible DUIs
and verifying driver's licenses.

4. Cooperation and politeness can ease your passage through checkpoints.

Additional Tips

  1. Be prepared for emergencies. Familiarize yourself with local emergency numbers.

2. In case of an accident, call South African emergency services at 112 (Emergency),
10111 (Police), or 10177 (Ambulance).

3. Provide your details and wait for emergency services to arrive.

4. Understanding some common South African phrases like "Ja" for yes, "Nee" for no,
"Asseblief" for please, "Dankie" for thank you, and "Totsiens" for goodbye can be

Remember, being prepared and informed can significantly improve your driving experience in South Africa. Stay aware, follow local laws, and enjoy the journey safely.

Driving Conditions in South Africa

Be prepared for varying road conditions. In rural areas, you may encounter rough and uneven roads. Stay alert and drive cautiously. Also, a unique aspect of driving in South Africa is the possibility of encountering wildlife on the roads.

You might encounter animals such as cows, elephants, penguins, and more, depending on your route. Being vigilant can prevent accidents and ensure your and the animals' safety.

Accident Statistics

South Africa is known for its stunning landscapes and wildlife but also has its share of the high rate of road traffic incidents. According to the World Health Organization, road traffic deaths are a significant concern, with fatalities reaching up to 1.3 million annually.

Road incidents are among the leading causes of death for individuals aged 5 to 29 years. Remember, safety should always be your top priority while driving.

Choosing the Right Vehicle

The vehicle you choose for your journey is vital, especially for longer drives and varied road conditions. Common vehicles for standard roads include models like MINI, Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Fiat 500, VW Up!, BMW i3, Suzuki Swift, and Smart. Open-sided or closed 4WD vehicles are typically used for safari adventures, especially in areas like the Kruger National Park.

Toll Roads in South Africa

Be prepared to encounter toll roads such as N1, N2, N3, N4, N17, and M6. These tolls vary for different vehicle classes and often include VAT. Some toll plazas offer discounts for frequent users, particularly for light motor vehicles.

Road Situations and Safety Tips

Awareness of local road situations is crucial for a smooth journey. While the general road conditions are good, some areas might have ongoing road works or potholes.

Driving after dark should be avoided, as it poses significant risks, including encountering nocturnal wildlife and pedestrians not wearing reflective clothing. Additionally, some roads lack fluorescent line markings, making night driving particularly challenging.

Speed cameras and police presence are common, so always adhere to the speed limits and road rules. Be cautious of high vehicle crime rates and take necessary precautions for your safety.

South Africa's Top Road Trip Destinations

Ready to go on an adventure through South Africa's most stunning road trip destinations? Before you rev up your engine, ensure you have your International Driving Permit in hand. If you've got it, great! Grab your pen and prepare to jot down some of South Africa's most picturesque routes and destinations.

Cape Town

Cape Town is an essential stop on any South African itinerary. Known as the "Mother City," it is celebrated for its breathtaking natural scenery, vibrant urban life, and rich cultural heritage. Cape Town is not just one of the world's finest cities; it's also known for its seafood and scenic drives that offer endless panoramic views.


Johannesburg, the pulsating heart of South Africa and the "City of Gold," is your gateway to an unforgettable safari adventure. As the largest city in terms of population, Johannesburg's history is deeply intertwined with its gold rush era, making it a globally recognized destination. It's a city teeming with safari opportunities and national parks waiting to be explored.

The Garden Route

Famous for its stunning scenic drives, the Garden Route is a favorite among global travelers. Its unique combination of natural beauty and thrilling activities like cage diving with great white sharks adds to its allure. This route is a South African highlight and a world-renowned driving experience.

Blyde River Canyon

The Blyde River Canyon, also known as the Motlatse River Canyon, is a magnificent nature reserve between Johannesburg and Kruger Park. Home to Africa's second-largest canyon, this destination offers scenic driving routes and awe-inspiring views, notably from God's Window. Rich in biodiversity, it's a haven for various fish, hippos, antelopes, and primates.

Kruger National Park

Nearly two million hectares in size, Kruger National Park is a wildlife sanctuary that rivals the best in Africa. Known for its vast array of life forms and historical sites, it's an experience not to be missed. Home to the Big 5 – elephants, lions, buffaloes, rhinos, and leopards – Kruger National Park is the jewel of Southern African national parks.

Get an IDP to Explore South Africa

Don't miss the chance to experience these incredible destinations. Rent a car, get your International Driving Permit, and travel through South Africa's splendid landscapes and national parks!


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