How To Stay Safe On A South African Road Trip

Winding road in South Africa

Road safety to keep in mind when road tripping in South Africa

Whether you live in South Africa or visiting from abroad, a road trip across this beautiful country is a must. From the stunning shorelines of the Western Cape to the glorious Garden Route and beyond, you will be mesmerized by the sheer beauty. However, the high crime in South Africa is a factor you need to consider but if you stay vigilant and follow these important safety tips, you’ll enjoy a road trip of a lifetime.

Road Trip Safety Tips For South Africa

Considering that public transport is not as reliable or safe as it should be, you should ideally really rent a car. With the vast landscapes and long open roads, public transport simply won’t cut it. It’s true that hijackings are common but don’t let that deter you from travelling. If you pay attention to your surroundings and adhere to a few basic safety tips, it shouldn’t bother you at all.

Rent A Reliable Car

You might be tempted to hire a luxury car for your South African road trip but that is not always the best option. This is not just about safety but easier on your travel budget as a luxury 4×4 could cost a lot to rent and insure. Keeping a low profile is always better as nice cars mean money and added risk. That doesn’t mean you have to hire a cheap, unreliable car as it’s more about making the smart choice. So, instead of renting an Audi A4, for example, you could get a Ford Ecosport.

Fill Up The Tank

In addition to a punctured tyre or flat battery, very few things are as frustrating and dangerous as running out of petrol. Keep a close eye on your fuel tank and top up whenever you see a petrol station. While the GPS might say there is another station 100km’s away, it may not be open or there could be an unexpected delay on the road, i.e. traffic or accident.

Don’t Stop For Anyone

You might be inclined to stop and offer assistance to a stranded motorist or pick up a hitchhiker but it’s not safe. Ask any local person and they will tell you there are several scams in South Africa targeting unsuspecting drivers.

Sometimes a person will act injured and lie in the middle of the road while others pretend to have a broken-down vehicle. Often they have friends hiding in nearby bushes who will jump out the moment you slow down to try and help. They are known to steal cars and rob you and your passengers when you least expect it.

Lock Your Doors And Keep Windows Closed

Remember to keep all your doors locked and windows up as you could be a target for a robbery or carjacking. The risk is especially high when pulling up to a stop sign or a red traffic light. At the same time, you should also lock your doors when you get out of the vehicle. While you can travel on the open road with the windows open to enjoy the beautiful scenery, make sure you close them when arriving in any town or city.

Avoid Driving At Night

This is one of the most important safety tips for your South African road trip as it’s easy to accomplish. When planning your trip, figure out how long it will take you to get to your destination and make sure you leave early enough to arrive before dark. In many areas, being on the road in South Africa at night can be particularly dangerous.

In fact, due to the high number of hijackings, there are laws in place that allow you to run a red light or a stop sign at night. While there may be a slightly smaller risk of hijackings during the day, don’t lose focus and stay vigilant. It’s best to slowly pull up at the red light if you see it from a distance which will allow you to avoid standing still for longer than you have to.

Drive Slow And Watch For Potholes

While the main national roads and highways in South Africa are in good condition, many roads leading to some smaller towns and villages are particularly poor. Potholes in these areas are typically bigger than you’d expect and there’s no shoulder to pull onto which makes it even more dangerous.

In some places, people also walk along the road so you often have nowhere to go but over the potholes. When you come across these damaged roads, it’s best to drive slowly and carefully navigate your way around or through potholes.

Pay The Parking Attendant Or Car Guard

South Africa is one of the very few countries where you’ll find ‘car guards’ or self-appointed parking attendants. You will often see them at grocery stores, restaurants, malls or almost any shopping centre. It is mostly a person standing outside wearing a neon vest who will say something along the lines of “Can I watch your car?”

They will essentially keep an eye on your car making sure nobody steals or vandalizes it while you’re shopping or enjoying lunch. When you get back to your car, they will ask for some money and anything between 2 and 5 ZAR is the norm.

Get A Local SIM Card

Whether your car breaks down, you get lost or need to contact emergency services, being able to call a local number is essential. Fortunately, getting a local SIM card is easy to obtain as long as you have proof of address and your smartphone is “unlocked”. Make sure you top up on calling minutes and data. Here is some helpful information on where to get a SIM card in SA.

Buy A Good Map Book

While GPS technology is extremely helpful and convenient, if you don’t have data or can’t access Google maps for whatever reason, having an updated local map book is vital. Also, in some regions, Google Maps don’t show which routes are the most scenic which is what a road trip is all about so ask the locals and use a map instead.

Beware Of Wildlife

As with many countries, wildlife is abundant on South African roads which can be particularly hazardous. From cows and horses to baboons, monkeys and antelope, animals often roam the road so drive carefully and pay close attention to the road signs.

Remember to do your due diligence when researching and planning your road trip and that includes requesting local advice about where you should and shouldn’t travel. Keep an eye on the current political climate and make your decisions accordingly.

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