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Driving in South Africa

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Article Source: http://www.capespirit.com

Driving in South Africa is an enjoyable experience if one is familiar with the local driving conditions and nuances on the roads.

Licensing

Hiring a motor vehicle in South Africa requires that the intended driver of the vehicle has a valid driver’s license from their country of origin. The license mustbe printed in English and bare a photograph of the driver. However, it is more desirable to also obtain an international driver’s license from the relevant authorities in your country of origin before travelling to South Africa in order to ensure that you will be allowed to legally drive in the country. American citizens, for example, can obtain international licenses from automotive clubs associated with the AAA. Drivers should bring their local and international driver’s licenses with them when visiting South Africa.

Most car rental companies in South Africa will only provide their services to individuals over the age of 21, with some only allowing those older than 25 to rent cars.

The Metro Police in South Africa are responsible for policing the country’s roads and are a separate body from the South African Police Services (SAPS). These officials maintain a high visual presence on the country’s roads and will request presentation of a valid driver’s license should you engage with them on South Africa’s highways and byways.

Rules of the road

South Africa’s road rules are similar to those of most developed countries with the exception that in South Africa one drives on the left hand side of the road, just as in England, Australia and Japan, and unlike central-European countries and the USA. This means that drivers in South Africa are seated on the right-hand side of the car.

Adjusting to this is simple for most drivers from countries that drive on the right-hand side of the road because it makes sense once presented with controls on the other side of the car, and when following the traffic on the road. The only danger can be when turning right into a road, when the propensity to stay on the right hand side may kick in for American and European drivers.

It is also therefore illegal to overtake on the left hand side of the road in South Africa. One must move into a right-hand lane when passing by other vehicles. Unfortunately this is one rule that is not adhered to by all South African drivers, so one must be wary of over-takers in the left hand lane.

In general, and especially on highways in South Africa, it is recommended to maintain a following distance of at least three seconds. The speed limit on highways is usually 120 kilometres per hour except in denser areas where it drops to 100. On national roads the limit is usually 80 kilometres per hour and in residential areas this is reduced to 60. South African roads are clearly sign-posted with the relevant speed limit but remember that in South Africa speeds are presented in kilometres, not miles!

It is also illegal to talk on a mobile phone or any other communications device while driving in South Africa, unless one makes use of a hands-free solution in doing so.

Road network nuances

Given the diversity of terrain in South Africa its road network provides driving experiences in a number of different environments.

In the Mpumalanga province one can travel through high-altitude grasslands and lush mountain passes. In fact, Mpumalanga sports the highest tarred road above sea level in the world.

When visiting the bushveld, and particular in the Limpopo and North West provinces, one must be wary of potholes. It is easy to miss these as you stare out at the beautiful African grasslands and savannahs from your car window. Potholes are, in fact, a regular occurrence on South African roads and while the National Roads Agency does a good job of patching these regularly, many escape attention – especially in more outlying areas of the country.

The Garden Route in the Western Cape of South Africa is a highly popular route for travellers to South Africa. Stretching from Mossel Bay to Storms River, the Garden Route is one of the most scenic drives available anywhere in the world. This famous stretch of road, sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean takes one through indigenous forests and a mix of Cape Fynbos and temperate forests with various eco-tourism activities scattered along the route. Roads on the Garden Route vary from narrow and windy to long and straight and, once again, the challenge is keeping your eyes on the road while passing through the staggeringly beautiful surroundings.

Another popular area of travel in the Western Cape is through the Cape Winelands. This is the largest wine producing area in South Africa and is divided into six main wine regions, each offering their own unique wine route. Driving through this area allows travellers to stop off at various wine farms and enjoy a range of famous South African wines, cheeses, olives and other produce. But one must obviously be careful of enjoying too much wine before getting behind the wheel of a car, and the blood alcohol limit in South Africa is 0.8. So take care when being seduced by the excellent wines of the Western Cape and remember to drink lots of water in-between.

Of course, safaris are a popular nature of trip to South Africa and this will take drivers through bushveld areas in game parks such as the Kruger National Park and Pilanesburg National Park. While in the parks travellers will spend much of their time on well-maintained dirt roads with very low speed limits, generally of 20 kilometres per hour. Off-road vehicles are definitely not a necessity for the national parks, but are desirable because of the elevated angle of view they offer that makes it easier to spot and enjoy the game in the parks. But virtually any car can safely be driven through the parks and used for game viewing. In times of great rainfall, however, the dirt roads can change overnight and require more care when being utilised as parts of the roads wash away.

Some practices on South African roads are irregular for drivers from other countries, such as that of moving into the emergency lane to allow other vehicles to pass by. While this is not strictly-speaking legal and drivers are not obliged to move over, one will find this a common practice amongst South Africa drivers, and especially truck drivers who will happily move over into the emergency lane on single-lane roads allowing faster traffic to move past. A colloquial etiquette has developed around this practice whereby drivers will use their hazard lights briefly to thank drivers who have allowed them past.

Personal Navigation Systems

GPS systems are an excellent addition to a road trips in South Africa and the local road data available is extensive and kept up to date, along with point of interest databases. GPS navigation systems can also be rented along with cars in South Africa, so that visitors do not need to bring their own systems along. However, should you wish to use your own navigation system, South African maps are available online for virtually all systems.

With GPS in hand it is possible to optimise time spent travelling and uncover more landmarks and places of interest to enjoy while travelling in South Africa. GPS systems also make it easy to plan trips ahead of time, along with intended stops, breaks and visits to services stations.

South Africa’s beauty and diversity is best enjoyed by taking to the country’s open roads and enjoying the scenery, historical landmarks, wildlife and culture of the country at one’s own leisure. With so much to do, see and enjoy a rental car is definitely the best way to travel in South Africa.

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