If you have just relocated to South Africa or are planning to, here is what you need to know when driving in SA.

Road rules, although internationally applied, are applied differently in every country and South Africa is no exception. When chatting to expatriates about their first experiences in South Africa they often mention the shock and stress when they first started driving in SA. You also get mixed information on the documents required to buy a car and drive legally on the roads depending on who you talk to. Here is some basic info you need to know to get started.

Your driver’s license

Ideally, you should get an international drivers license in your country of origin. If you forgot and are already in South Africa, don’t worry, you can drive with your own country’s driver’s license as long as it is in English and has your photo and details on. If it is in another language you can have it translated by a sworn translator and drive with the original sworn translation. Next time you are back home, remember to get the international license because it will make your life easier not having to explain each time you are stopped by traffic cops. Keep track of the expiry dates, it is very easy to overlook this and you will battle to renew while in South Africa.

Traffic register number

You need one of these in order to purchase a vehicle and register it in your name. It is used in place of an Identification (ID) number that foreigners do not have in order to identify you at the traffic department. You have to apply in person at a traffic police department. You will need to provide a number of documents for this including bank account details, proof of residence and employment info. The traffic register number will be issued within a few days and then you can register your car.

Vehicle finance

You can apply for vehicle finance. You will need to have a temporary residence visa for more than 6 months, proof of financial means and proof of employment together with a list of supporting documents. The bank will base the loan on your financial status and duration of your visa. This means that they may request a larger deposit up front and they may apply a higher interest rate because you have no credit history in the country. Try to negotiate the interest terms and shop around for the best offer.

Vehicle insurance

Comprehensive vehicle insurance is a must. Many vehicles on the road do not have full insurance. If you, unfortunately, end up in an accident the chances are the other vehicle does not have insurance and you will have to claim from your insurer regardless of whether it was your fault or not.

Roadside assist

Make sure you have roadside assistance provided in the event of breakdowns or punctures. This is provided by the AA (Automobile association), your bank as part of the petrol card you received, or your vehicle insurance company. Save their emergency number and even put a sticker on your car with it.

We drive on the left side of the road

It will take some getting used to if you are coming from a “right lane driving” country and you may end up turning into the opposite traffic once or twice. If that happens, immediately put your emergency lights and get off the road as quickly as possible to avoid an accident.

We also break the left side rule sometimes

If you are on the highway cars are overtaking from both sides, don’t be alarmed. Drivers here don’t perceive the fast lane as a lane for overtaking and fast vehicles only. You will often see cars driving at well below the speed limit in the fast lane and other drivers overtaking them from the left. Added to that are the motorbikes on the road. Some, often ride on the painted lane line instead of in the lane and they tend to weave back and forth between lanes when there is traffic congestion. It is, therefore, important to always be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users.

Minibus taxis

Minibus taxis are seen as unsafe on the roads and they often break the rules by speeding, not obeying the traffic lights and road signs. It is important to stay a safe driving distance away as they will stop or swerve or make a U turn at any time on the road.

“The robot creep”

First of all, did you know that we call traffic lights “robots”? The “robot creep” is an interesting maneuver performed by impatient drivers when waiting for the light to change to green. They keep slowly moving their vehicle forward while the light is red and often end up in the middle of the road before the light changes to green. If you don’t focus on the actual traffic light you might find yourself following suit and ending up in the middle of the road as well. This becomes awkward when the light actually changes to a turning arrow for the opposite traffic and you are sitting in their way looking them straight in the face.

Amber light

An amber light indicates that the lights will soon turn red and it normally cautions the driver to stop however drivers usually speed up to cross the road when the light turns to amber rather than stop. Keep alert especially if you are in front and planning to stop because the car behind you may just have other ideas.

Traffic circles, four-way stops and yield signs

Another mystery on our roads that seems to be open for interpretation. Of course, there are rules but some people have simply forgotten them or never knew them to start with. I always try to make eye contact with the other drivers and check that they know I will be going now, just to make sure. Otherwise, the rule is usually first in on the right has right of way.

This list should be enough to get you started on our roads. As long as you don’t text and watch videos while driving and always stay alert you will be 100% fine.

At Expats On The Globe we have experience with traffic register number applications, translation of international drivers license and providing advice with regard to purchasing or renting a vehicle in SA. Please call us and we will gladly assist you.