Driving in South Africa
South Africa Travel Tips

A Guide to Driving in South Africa

09/12/2015

Last updated on November 8th, 2019 at 08:11 am

Driving in South Africa

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Whether you’re living or visiting SA, you might end up driving in South Africa and it’s important to know the South African road rules and regulations.

There are many things to do in South Africa and unfortunately, our public transport system isn’t great especially in the rural areas. Most visitors either hire a driver, use uber or rent a car in South Africa.

While driving in South Africa is relatively straight forward, there are a few laws and rules of the road that you need to keep in mind.

Things to know before driving in South Africa

This post was inspired by a guy who emailed me to ask how you can rent a car in South Africa without a driver’s license.

  • Firstly, it’s illegal to drive in South Africa without a driver’s license! Although you won’t get arrested if you are local, you’ll get a fine but chances of arrest are high if you’re a foreigner.
  • It’s also highly advisable to not come to our country and break the rules 🙂
  • Speed limits in South Africa are in kilometers.
  • Most South Africans drive manual transmission cars as they are cheaper than automatic.
  • Motor insurance isn’t a prerequisite to own a car in South Africa. If someone crashes into you, you should probably stress out and assume they won’t pay for the damages because most people don’t have insurance.
  • The South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) is responsible for South African roads.
  • South Africa has the 10th largest road network in the world.
  • Types of Roads in South Africa: depending on the province, metro, and municipality, some roads are paved and most roads in the countryside are gravel.
  • Never get out of your car to take selfies or feed live animals on the road — this can result in a fine.

Important info about driving in South Africa

Driving age in South Africa

The legal driving age in South Africa is 18 years old, even if you are younger and hold a license in your home country, you need to be at least 18 to drive or rent a car in South Africa.

How to get a drivers license in South Africa

Before applying for a driving license in South Africa, you must first take the written test.

  1. You must first buy the K53 book to learn about the South African driving rules and regulations
  2. You have to book an appointment on the official traffic department website: online.natis.gov.za
  3. Go to the traffic department for your written test on the day and time you booked.
  4. If you pass, a learners’ permit is issued immediately. With a learner permit, you can drive with one person who is in possession of a SA driver’s license but no passengers are allowed in the car.

After you pass your learners test, you need to book an appointment for your driving test.

  1. You need to book again online and pay.
  2. Arrive in your car for your driving test. The traffic department doesn’t give cars for tests/

Types of South African Drivers Licenses

  • Code A1: This is for a motorcycle with or without a sidecar and with an engine not exceeding 125 cc. You must be at least 17 years old on the date of the test.
  • Code A: This is for a motorcycle with or without a sidecar and with an engine that exceeds 125 cc. You must be 18 years or older to apply.
  • Code B: This is for a motor vehicle, including a minibus, bus, and goods vehicle, with a gross vehicle mass not exceeding 3 500kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply.
  • Code C1: This is for a motor vehicle, a bus, minibus or goods vehicle with a gross vehicle mass between 3 500 kg and 16 000 kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply.
  • Code C: This is for a motor vehicle, a bus or a goods vehicle with a gross vehicle mass exceeding 16 000kg.
  • Code EB: This is for a light motor vehicle that is articulated (light motor vehicle drawing a trailer) with a gross combination mass not exceeding 3 500 kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply
    a combination of a motor vehicle with a tare not exceeding 3 500 kg and a minibus, bus or goods vehicle with a gross vehicle mass not exceeding 3 500 kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply.
  • Code EC1: This is for an articulated heavy motor vehicle (heavy motor vehicle drawing a trailer[s]) with a  gross combination mass between 3 500 kg and 16 000 kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply.
    a combination of a motor vehicle with a tare between 3 500 kg and 16 500 kg and a minibus, midibus, bus or goods vehicle with a gross vehicle mass between 3 500 kg and 16 000 kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply.
  • Code EC: This is for an articulated heavy motor vehicle (heavy motor vehicle drawing a trailer[s]) with a gross combination mass exceeding 16 000 kg or a combination of a bus or goods vehicle with a gross vehicle mass exceeding 16 000 kg. You must be 18 years or older to apply.

How to renew my South African drivers’ license

Your South African driving license card expires every 5 years and needs to be renewed four weeks before its expiry date.

In the past, you had to go to your nearest DLTC (Driving license Testing Centre) and wait in line all day. They changed the procedure in 2019:

  1. You have to book an appointment on the official traffic department website: online.natis.gov.za
  2. Make a renewal payment of R228 (subject to annual increase).
  3. Go to the traffic department on the day and time you booked.

What should you take to the booking/appointment?

  • A printed booking confirmation email and proof of payment
  • A valid eye test result
  • Your South African ID document
  • Your current drivers’ license
  • Online it says to bring 2 X ID photos, when I went for my renewal in June 2019 – they took a picture of me and didn’t use my ID photos. You can bring photos to be safe.

It takes four to six weeks to get a new drivers’ license.

Do I need a temporary drivers’ license in South Africa

When renewing your South African driver’s license, you have the option of paying an extra R72 (subject to annual increase) for a temporary driver’s license.

I don’t recommend doing this because as long as you have your old South African drivers’ license and original license renewal payment receipt with you, the police won’t give you a fine for not having a license.

How to apply for an International Driving Permit in South Africa

International Driving Permits (IDP) are internationally recognized permits that allow you to drive overseas. The AA is the only place in South Africa where you can apply for an IDP.

An IDP may only be obtained from the country where you obtained your driver’s license.

Things you need to get an International Driving License:

  • Valid South African driver’s license card
  • South African identity document
  • Proof of Residence Document
  • Two (2) passport size photographs

It takes one (1) day to issue an International Driving Permit, so it’s advisable to apply online then go to AA to pick up the license.

Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it because I have been to over 30 countries and driven in most of them and they have never asked for this but if you want to be on the safe side, you should definitely get one.

Where to buy a drivers license in South Africa

Many South African government departments especially police and traffic department officials are notorious for accepting and even demanding “cold drink” –  another word for a bribe in South Africa.

For between R2,500 to R5,000, you can get a learner’s and a driver’s license from most licensing departments especially in rural areas where they haven’t introduced online bookings and payments.

The government made a few changes like having to pay online before coming to the traffic department for your test, however, we all know that South Africans always find a way to do illegal things but just keep in mind that if you get caught you can face jail time and also when buying a license in South Africa, there’s no actual way for “normal people” to verify if it’s real, so you can be getting a fake license.

Even if the officer threatens to make sure that you fail if you don’t pay a bribe, say ok and report the official so they can be fired!

Does South Africa have tolls

South Africa has 47 tolls in the nine provinces and most tolls are found on highways or province borders.

Tolls cost between ZAR 10 – 200 (USD 0.90 – $20).

Most tolls only accept cash so check this before you leave for your trip and carry rands!

Does South Africa have speed cameras

Yes, South Africa has speed cameras! The law doesn’t require the government to warn you about speed cameras because you are supposed to be following the rules of the road.

Obey the speed limits to avoid fines! When renting a car they will send the fine to the car rental who will automatically deduct it from your credit card.

Etiquette for driving in South Africa

Flashing lights while driving in South Africa

If you see an oncoming car flashing lights at you, it’s a friendly way to warn you of a police check, speed camera, or an accident up ahead. I don’t do this or recommend it because police checks help us to decrease the number of stolen cars, kidnappings, and drugs.

If you see the car behind you flashing lights, this means you must speed up or move out of the way.

When someone moves aside to allow you to pass them, it’s customary to put on your flashers for a few blinks to indicate your gratitude.

If you see a car parked on the side of the road

If you see someone on the side of the road who has had an accident or broken down, it is not advisable to stop and help them.

I know this might sound bad to foreigners but it could be a hijacking attempt. Just call the police and notify authorities of the situation.

Should I give hitchhikers in South Africa a ride

No! Do you want someone to get in your car, pull out a gun and leave you on the side of the road?

Keep going even if it’s raining!

Window Washers in South Africa

If you’re at the traffic lights and someone runs up to your car and starts washing your car windows without your consent, you should stop them immediately!

Unless you want them to clean your windscreen because they will expect a payment for this service.

Car guards in South Africa

When you park on the street, guys wearing a yellow vest will usually say Hi and automatically take care of your car.

These guys are car guards, they weren’t hired by a company but they will expect payment from you. You can usually give them coins – about R5.

Rules for driving in South Africa

What side of the road does South Africa drive on

In South Africa, we drive on the left-hand side and the steering wheel and the driver sits on the right-hand side of the car.

What’s the minimum speed limit South Africa

Driving in South Africa

A speed sign and speed camera warning

The general speed limits in terms of the South African National Road Traffic Act, 1989 and its regulations are:

  • 60 km/h on a public road within an urban area.
  • 100 km/h on public road outside an urban area which is not a freeway;
  • 120 km/h on freeways ONLY.

What you can be arrested for when driving in South Africa

  • Driving recklessly.
  • Exceeding the speed limit by 40km/h or more leads to getting arrested on the spot. This applies to the general speed limit, and speed limits prescribed by signs.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs leads to getting arrested on the spot.

Drinking limit in South Africa

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is illegal in South Africa.

For normal drivers, the concentration of alcohol in any blood specimen must be less than 0,05 gram per 100 milliliters, and in the case of a professional driver, less than 0,02 gram per 100 milliliters.

The concentration of alcohol in any specimen of breath exhaled must be less than 0,24 milligrams per 1 000 milliliters, and in the case of a professional driver, less than 0,10 milligrams per 1 000 milliliters.

In South Africa the term “drunken driving” refers to two different criminal charges, namely:

  1. Driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect; and
  2. Driving while the concentration of alcohol in your blood or breath is over the specified limit.

Penalty for drunk driving in South Africa

1. You will be arrested for being over the limit

If you are suspected of drinking and driving, you will be breathalyzed.

If the breathalyser tests positive (and you are found to be over the legal limit), the police official is entitled, under Section 40(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 (the “CPA”) to formally arrest and charge the accused with the offence of contravening section 65(5) of the NRA, which prohibits driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.

Do not resist arrest or become violent under any circumstances as such behavior may prejudice your chances of being released on bail. You must be treated with dignity, and be read your rights – including your right to remain silent and your right to phone one person to inform them of the situation (call your attorney, family or a friend). You must provide the officer with your full name.

2. You will be detained for drinking and driving in South Africa

Once arrested, authorities are then allowed to detain you for further evaluation and according to Sec 50 of the CPAyou shall “as soon as possible”, be taken into custody at the closest police station and sent for further testing at an alcohol testing center.

However, despite the positive reading on the breathalyzer, an accused person is still presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Section 35 (3)(h) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa states that “Every accused person has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent, to remain silent, and not to testify during the proceedings“.

The State must, therefore, prove, by admissible and credible evidence that the accused was indeed over the legal limit during the act of driving or occupancy. This involves the taking of a blood sample as is set out in Section 65(9) of the NRA in order to prove their case.

3. Who can take blood for these purposes?

According to Sec 65(9), a person arrested for one of the drink-and-drive offenses is not entitled to refuse permission for a blood specimen to be taken.

However, an arrested driver can request that his or her medical practitioner be present. In accordance with the rights of an arrested, accused or detained person under our Bill of Rights, the accused can demand to be shown that a sealed syringe and needle is used during the taking of the blood.

According to Section 37(2)(a) of the CPA, the people that are authorized to take blood specimens are “medical officers of a prison, district surgeons or, if requested to do so by a police official, a registered medical practitioner or a registered nurse”. Once the authorized person takes your blood sample, it will be submitted to a state laboratory for scientific analysis.

The analysis enables an expert to ascertain the estimated quantity of alcohol in the person’s blood at the time of the examination and must be done within two hours of the alleged act.

4. What’s next?

A docket will then be opened and you will be allocated an investigating officer who will follow up on your blood test results.

According to the SAPS website, you will then be held in custody until you are either released on bail or make your first appearance in court. According to Section 50(1)(d) of the CPA, you will have to appear within 48 hours of being arrested but this time period may be extended on weekends or public holidays as the courts are not open.

This could mean spending 48 to 72 hours in a holding cell – Imagine being arrested on a Friday night and only appearing in court on Monday?!

5. Bail

A person who has been detained (as contemplated in Section 50(1)(a) of the CPA) shall, as soon as reasonably possible, be informed of his or her right to institute bail proceedings.

According to Section 58 of the CPA, an accused in custody can be released after the payment of, or the furnishing of a guarantee to pay, a sum of money determined for his bail.  The accused must thereafter appear at the place and on the date and time appointed for his or her trial. An accused can apply for bail at the police station before his/her first court appearance and can be released by a police official of, or above, the rank of a non-commissioned officer, (in consultation with the police officer charged with the investigation), with regards to minor offenses.

For more serious offenses, bail is granted by a prosecutor and in all other serious instances, may only be applied for in court. The Magistrate or Judge (depending on the seriousness of the offense), uses their own discretion when considering the circumstances of every case and orders the amount of bail to be paid.

The amount is dependent on numerous factors, including the nature of the crime, the interests of justice and other reasonable conditions, such as the existence of a previous charge, affordability, and income.

6. Sentencing for drunk driving in South Africa

Once the above has all taken place, the accused must then be brought to Court where the State, through a prosecutor, must prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt during a trial.

This will include the state proving that the analysis was made by an expert who had the necessary skill and that the specimen analyzed was that of the accused. A long and lengthy process that involves leading evidence by both the State and the accused’s defense team ensues and could take many months to finalize.

However, it is important to remember that any arrested, accused or detained person, under our Bill of Rights at Section 35, has the right amongst others, to legal representation, which if they cannot afford to pay for themselves must be provided by the State.

7. Consequences of a DUI in South Africa

Depending on the circumstances, sentences can vary from imprisonment (up to 6 years) to a fine (minimum of R2000), to the suspension of your driver’s license.

The court can suspend these sentences on condition that you don’t break the law again. Besides the proceedings being time-consuming and potentially costly, there are numerous negative long term consequences that can follow you years into the future.

Your health, vehicle, finances, job, and studies can be affected severely. A criminal record for drunk driving can stay with you for up to 10 years and can seriously hinder your employability and your status in the eyes of employers.

What you can’t be arrested for when driving in South Africa

  • You can’t be arrested for driving in South Africa without wearing a seatbelt, but you will get a fine.
  • Driving without carrying a license in SA leads to a traffic fine.
  • Failing to display a current license disc on your vehicle’s windscreen also leads to a fine.
  • When it comes to South African traffic light rules, some people claim you can skip a red light at night if there’s no traffic, this is false and if the police find you, you will get a find.
  • Driving while holding or using a cellphone.
  • Driving an unlicensed or unregistered vehicle.
  • Failing to yield to a pedestrian or animals.

South African driving regulations for foreigners

Do I need an international driver’s license in South Africa

All drivers must have a valid driving license from their country of residence.

You can drive in South Africa on a British license or any other license that is printed in English – however, if the license is not printed in English, then you will need to obtain an International Drivers Licence.

How to convert a foreign driving license in South Africa

If you have been granted South African permanent residence, you must convert your foreign driving license to a South African one within a year of receiving your permanent residence permit.

If you fail to convert your license within one year, it will be regarded as invalid.

Your foreign driving license will be converted if the license:

  • The license hasn’t expired.
  • translated into one of the official South African languages
  • is accompanied by a letter of validity obtained from the relevant embassy and a translation if the license is not in an official language of South Africa
  • It has your photo and signature.

How much does it cost to convert a foreign driving license in South Africa

Contact your local licensing office for the cost.

Renting a car in South Africa advice

Traveling around South Africa without a car is doable but can be difficult hence most visitors opt to rent a car in South Africa.

Here are a few things to know before renting a car in South Africa:

  • Before the car rental company gives you the car, they will do an inspection with you present. Always video record it and pay attention to avoid extra costs for damages that were already there when you first took the car.
  • Car rentals have daily mileage with an excess charge for each extra kilometer driven. If you are planning on road tripping the whole country, I recommend choosing a rental with unlimited mileage upfront rather than pay the extra per kilometer fee when returning the car, its cheaper.
  • If you are picking up and dropping off in separate locations you won’t be charged an extra fee because most rentals offer one-way dropoff.
  • If you plan on visiting one of our neighboring countries, you need to inform the car rental company beforehand so they can give you a letter of authority that you need to cross the border.
  • Car rentals come with 24/7 roadside assist in South Africa.
  • When renting a car, you’ll have the option of choosing between manual and automatic transmission. Automatic is also limited.
  • If renting a car, it is recommended that you carry a copy of your vehicle rental agreement.
  • Always get insurance! Motor Insurance in South Africa is not compulsory but highly recommended, especially when renting a car.
  • Always get tyre and glass insurance! Depending on where you go in South Africa, the roads can be bad and the car tyres can be damaged or small stones might even damage the windscreen. This insurance is separate from normal car rental insurance but it protects you because best believe me when I say that rental companies will try and charge you for a little windscreen scratch.

Is it safe to drive in South Africa

Be aware of your surroundings. Whether you are walking or driving. Remember that hijackings and smash-and-grab robberies in cars are common.

Don’t leave your handbag or electronics on the seats while driving. When you stop, don’t leave them in your car trunk.

Always double check to see if the car door is locked, don’t rely on the car remote to automatically do the job but manually check to see if the door is locked, car lock jamming is popular, especially in big cities!

When you get in the car, close your windows and lock the doors.

Hijackings can happen at any time of the day, even at traffic lights or gas stations!

Don’t rent a flashy or expensive car, opt for a brand that won’t make you stand out like a Ford or Toyota. Volkswagen is one of the most stolen brands in the country.

More South Africa Travel Guides

Travel Insurance for South Africa

Use travel insurance while visiting South Africa so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do in SA, and it’s best to have peace of mind while diving, hiking and trying some of the best food in the world.

Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

8 Comments

  • Lerato
    11/06/2019 at 9:35 AM

    @Machiel, thank you so much for your comment! As stated in the article and as you said in your comment, “Getting out of your car to take selfies or feed live animals on the road can result in a fine.” It’s not illegal but can result in a fine. Thanks for the info about the warning triangle

  • Machiel
    11/05/2019 at 7:07 AM

    “Never get out of your car to take selfies or feed live animals on the road — this can result in a fine.”

    It is not illegal and you will not be fined for doing so unless you are obstructing or impeding the flow of traffic or there is a sign prohibiting it. However, it is still not advisable for safety reasons. If you need or want to do so, try and pull off the road completely. Make sure to put on the hazards and put out your warning triangle approximately 45 paces behind the vehicle.

    Other than that, excellent and very informative article.

  • Lerato
    10/26/2019 at 12:30 PM

    @Hannah. I totally agree!

  • Merryl
    10/25/2019 at 8:22 AM

    All these tips are soo helpful. Going to look this up again while planning my trip to SA

  • Kara Paul
    10/24/2019 at 10:17 AM

    Wow, if I ever need to drive in South Africa this will be my go-to guide! Super informative. I definitely always feel like more driving guides are needed, since some trips I didn’t consider renting a car if I couldn’t find clear guides on how to drive in that area.

  • Hannah
    10/24/2019 at 9:18 AM

    What a comprehensive post on driving in SA. Really good to know about all the legal ins and outs, because those are the small details that can make a difference when travelling!

  • Daria
    10/24/2019 at 9:16 AM

    What a useful post! I’d love to go to South Africa, it looks amazing! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Meghan Emcee
    10/23/2019 at 11:24 AM

    This is such an informative guide, answers all my questions for driving in South Africa! Thanks!

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