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Slow Traveler
Picture of Robert Rainey
posted
Is it safe to Drive in South Africa? Reading a descrition of driving it seems to be it like A real version of the video game "Grand Theft Auto".

"If you must stop at the side of the road after you pull over roll up all your windows lock the door and immediately call the police" !!!!
(exclamations added by me)

Sounds like way more dangerous than South Central or Harlem even at their worst time
in history.

I think renting an automatic is going to be necessary- although I hate them too much worry about driving on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road with the shifter on my left hand ( and I'm not sure is the clutch on the right?) RR
 
Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post

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Slow Traveler
Picture of Marta
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Where will you be driving? We rented a car for 15 days in the Western Cape region (Capetown region and up to Springbok). We did not have any difficulties and mainly used common sense. I don't have any hesitation driving in the Western Cape region or along the Garden Route. I probably would also do it in the Drakensberg Mountains.

What we did not do is drive at night. I can be dangerous - mainly from animals on the road. In towns, we tended to keep our windows rolled up and doors locked. In Cape Town it was fine although there were people selling papers or wanting to clean our windows. Kinda like the pan-handlers at intersections here in the US - don't make eye contact and ignore.

We also made certain we had a cell phone and we locked our car up behind gates at night. We also tipped roving street attendants when we parked to watch our car. I would also recommend knowing in general about the neighborhood where you are driving. Part of the common sense - if you are driving through a lower income area - just be aware, etc. No different from driving through sections of LA.

We were never pulled over - never had anyone challenge us on the road and felt very safe driving for 15 days in South Africa. If you are worried - you can always hire a driver.
 
Posts: 12556 | Location: Edmonds, WA | Registered: 25 October 2001Report This Post

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Slow Traveler
Picture of Marta
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Regarding type of car to rent - have you driven on the left before in a standard car? The petals are the same - but the gearshift is left-handed. It is easier to use an automatic if you can rent one. But they are not always available. I typically drive a shift and I've gotten pretty used to doing a left-handed shift after traveling in several countries that drive on the left. For us it is just a matter of balancing the cost over convenience. So far - only Australia has had a good selection of Automatic at economical prices. All other countries (So Africa, Malaysia, UK), we've rented standards.
 
Posts: 12556 | Location: Edmonds, WA | Registered: 25 October 2001Report This Post

Slow Traveler
Picture of Robert Rainey
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Never driven on the wrong side of the car or the road (majority rules). Auto Europe rents from durban, can get an automatic at the airport where we pick up.

we do plan to hike in drakesburg so therefore drive there. Is it dangerous?

We have the entire month of December there leave nov 28 arrive dec 1, leave the last Sat of the month then two days in Paris on the way back for New Years! RR
 
Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post
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Robert,

I have not been in SA but did do some driving in Namibia. I didn't find the conversion to driving on the "wrong" side nearly as difficult as I anticipated and did have a standard trans. One thing mentioned above that was true in Namibia and should no be overlooked. Most public parking there were "parking guards". Most of the time they wore some kind of uniform but not always. You should accept these people and they really will watch your car. It only costs a couple of Rand. One of those local customs.
 
Posts: 36 | Registered: 06 May 2010Report This Post

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I am in South Africa every few years, and learnt to drive here.

Is it safe? - yes, probably. I qualify this in several ways:
Driving on motorways and in busy towns, during daylight hours is easy. Outside towns the main roads tend to be in good repair and not too busy. Road users are generally courteous, but outside of towns are often prone to excessive speed.

some exceptions: Minibus taxis are dangerous to other drivers - they tend to be badly maintained, horribly overloaded, and unlikely to follow any rules - it is not uncommon to be overtaken by a minibus doing 120km/h, only to have it slam on brakes ahead of you because somebody might need pickng up - and once picked up they will drive straight back into a stream of traffic leaving it up to you how to avoid them.

Driving into the Drakensberg is fine, but where are you going to leave the car? Unless you can guarantee a safe, guarded site, then it is more likely than not that your car will be broken in to.

December is peak holiday season - Schools break up early in the month, and most businesses by around the 15th - both events traditionally lead to mass migrations to the coast - Effectively a long traffic jam from Jo'burg to Durban. It is always a very bad time for road casualties as so many accidents happen with impatient drivers.

In summary, you should be fine, but drive very defensively. Try not to get involved - if you see an idiot carving you up, or barging in, just let it go.

TimW
 
Posts: 1082 | Location: Hampshire, UK | Registered: 28 March 2005Report This Post

Slow Traveler
Picture of Robert Rainey
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we will be driving away from the beach so hopefully that is less traffic? We would I assume leave our car at our hotel/accomodation which I am sure is safe. We overnight in Durban as we arrive in the late pm, by the time we get bags etc. it will be easier to stay than to get on the road. RR
 
Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post

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I have just checked the SA schools calenders, and it seems the Schools don't close until the 7th of December, so traffic should not be too bad.

I didn't want to seem alarmist, but there were over 850 fatal accidents with over 1200 deaths on the roads in December 2011. From experience, many of these would be head on collisions brought about by stupid overtaking.

If you car is at the hotel, then it will be fine. I used to do a fair amount of walking in the Eastern Cape region , and often the car parks were small and unattended - I was thinking of that sort of thing.

I would advise asking the hotel about hiking safety. They will know the areas.

Where in the Drakensberg are you staying?

Tim
 
Posts: 1082 | Location: Hampshire, UK | Registered: 28 March 2005Report This Post

Slow Traveler
Picture of Robert Rainey
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quote:
Originally posted by TimW:
I have just checked the SA schools calenders, and it seems the Schools don't close until the 7th of December, so traffic should not be too bad.

I didn't want to seem alarmist, but there were over 850 fatal accidents with over 1200 deaths on the roads in December 2011. From experience, many of these would be head on collisions brought about by stupid overtaking.

If you car is at the hotel, then it will be fine. I used to do a fair amount of walking in the Eastern Cape region , and often the car parks were small and unattended - I was thinking of that sort of thing.

I would advise asking the hotel about hiking safety. They will know the areas.

Where in the Drakensberg are you staying?

Tim



Looking at the USA overall that is about 2 times the rate per capita.

looking at staying- Antbear and

Drakensburg retreat

Maybe 4 days one place and 3 the other RR
 
Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post

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I took a look at a google map of Durban to Harrisburg since that is on the way to the Drakensburg retreat. Google has streetviews of the N3 highway so you can see what it looks like. You can also do street view of a couple of the big roads in Durban. It looks pretty open especially outside of Durban. But use the Streetview to see what it is like in town. Do look at some of the streets off the main roads also so you can get an idea of the town especially center of town. Are you staying at all in Durban?

I think you will be fine. The road is mostly four lanes. Just keep your speed in check and remember to stay to the left and let the speeders go on the faster lane. You may have to go around slow trucks but with the 4 lanes it won't be too bad. If you had driven on the left before - I'd say no problem. We're thinking of a similar trip some day and I'd drive. You will also be doing some dirt/non-paved driving I think. I found the non-tarmac'd roads extremely well maintained in both SA and Namibia. Shoot.. I was traveling 50mph on dirt roads. Smile I was mindful that the biggest killer in Namibia was speed on the dirt roads.

Once at the places you are staying, they will have a parking area that may be behind a fence. Or maybe not since you are pretty rural. In the cities (even small cities), you usually lock your car behind gates and they may be barb-wired. In the real rural areas of Western Cape where we stayed out of town on farms, we did not lock up our car at night.

For hiking - are you going with guides? Will they take you to the trail heads?
 
Posts: 12556 | Location: Edmonds, WA | Registered: 25 October 2001Report This Post

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Picture of Robert Rainey
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I've never driven on the left except when passing on a one lane road.I'd rather not go in the slowest lane that is always the most dangerous (possibly the fastest is close).
the speed limit is 120km/hr =75MPH how fast is traffic moving?


I am sure there is no fenced parking area We will be 3-4 hours from a town of any decent size.

Hiking with guides, maybe 2 hikes each place.Possibly leaving from accomodations or nearby, not driving more than one hr hopefully to get to trailheads. I'll park where the guide says its safe. RR
 
Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post

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How fast is traffic moving?

Difficult to answer. I have not driven that stretch of road, but based on my experience of the N2 (Cape Town to Port Elizabeth), it can vary hugely. There are often large sugarcane trucks in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) which are very slow, particularly on hills.

Speed is a real issue - both the taxis mentioned earlier, plus big powerful cars. It is not unusual to be overtaken at well in excess of 100mph

On Dual carriageways (two lanes each way) in South Africa the rule is pretty much drive left, overtake right, although it is not illegal to "undertake" in the left lane.

Where the road narrows to single lane each way, there is usually a large area of "hard shoulder" separated from the road by a yellow line. It istechnically illegal to drive in this region, but it is accepted peactice that if you approach a slower moving vehicle, it will pull over onto the hard shoulder (if safe) to allow you to pass. It is traditional to thank the driver by briefly switching on your emergancy flashers for a second or two.
 
Posts: 1082 | Location: Hampshire, UK | Registered: 28 March 2005Report This Post

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quote:
It is traditional to thank the driver by briefly switching on your emergancy flashers for a second or two.


Good point. I forgot about this. US drivers rarely flash headlights or flashers so it can make you wonder if something is wrong.

I haven't driven the N3 either. It is the main road between Durban and Jo'burg so you might have more speeders. I don't know.
 
Posts: 12556 | Location: Edmonds, WA | Registered: 25 October 2001Report This Post

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Picture of Robert Rainey
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I'm familiar with this type of driving and feel that it is safe as long as the people obey the rules. It seems this is how Italy worked pre 130 KPH limit. 160KPH no problem if the road is good and flat and visibility is good etc. RR
 
Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post
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I spent 20+ days traveling in SA Dec 22-Jan 8 visiting my brother-in-laws family. Other than flying from Durban to Capetown and then Capetown to Kruger, we drove everywhere. I was with my sister and 80+year old parents and we all drove with no issues (we did have an automatic which made life much easier). We drove mostly during the day and took the same precautions we would take in any large US city..parked on a well lit street, locked the car and didn't keep valuables in sight. I don't stop at night in either SA or US for a car on the side of the road, so that wasn't an issue for us either..not that I saw that many. Just use common sense and you will be fine.

I really was nervous initially thinking "can I really do this?" but once behind the wheel really no problem. I drove around my BIL's housing addition to get the feel of driving on the left. The only issue I had when I first drove was negotiating the roundabouts because, truthfully, I've been driving on the "right" side of the road for 40+ years and it's difficult to break that habit. Other than that, it became very simple. Seriously, if I can do it, so can you.

I found drivers in SA to be much more courteous than in the states. Definately drive in the slow lane, which isn't really a "slow" lane. The right lanes, as a courtesy, is for passing only so don't hang out there. If you are on a two lane road and want to pass, the car in front of you will pull onto the berm and allow you to pass with no problem. Do flash your hazards as a quick thank you, as that is common. Cars will even pull over in the opposite direction to allow you more room. I was amazed. Try passing like that in Miami and I shudder to think what would happen. There are also areas where two lanes merge into one, and unlike the states where people rush to cut you out, cars in SA merge peacefully. All in all, I thought it was very civilized.

We drove north of Durban going as far as Pietermeritzburg no problems..wish we had the time to visit the Drakensburg, but that will have to wait til next time. We did drive through the Valley of 10000 Hills..gorgeous area and stopped at the ZULU village for a touristy look. Actually glad we did as the people were lovely and took alot of time with my parents explaining their dress and way of life. We drove through wine country and Cape Town. We drove to Gordon's Bay and Hermanus. We drove from Nelspruit to Kruger. We saw many taxi vans, but they used their blinkers to pull over and out. I did see one bad accident in outskirts of CapeTown, but that was it.

CapeTown is a large city with the crime that large cities have. We had small children come up to the windows holding a trash bag. I thought it was for recycling. In reality, they want you to give them your trash and then you give them 5 rand or so. I didn't have any issues, these kids are at least trying to work and make some money. Also as someone mentioned before, anywhere you go in SA there are men/women who work the side of a street as "car watchers". They expect a 5+rand tip to watch your car as it's parked so no vandalism etc happens to it. This happens on the streets in some municipal parking lots etc and was something that happened every place we went. Again, in a place of high unemployment I was happy to pay this. You do have to watch as if there is no designated car watcher around, sometimes someone will just run up and say they watched your car...sorry no money for you. You will know when you pull up to park, as someone will definately approach you to let you know your car will be watched. If not, don't pay anything to anyone. It helped us alot to know these things so hopefully this info will also help you.

Also as mentioned, this is a busy time in the larger cities as there are many people on holiday. Restaurants and hotels book quickly and you will need reservations most places...prices are also higher. I wouldn't go back during this time, but I had no choice for this vacation. My relatives say March/April is their favorite time of year. Be prepared for high heat and humidity in Durban area...although in higher altitudes & more breeze in Drakensburg shouldn't be an issue I would think.

You will love SA and it's people. They are gracious, eager to help and the entire country is gorgeous.
 
Posts: 8 | Location: NE Ohio | Registered: 08 September 2001Report This Post

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Posts: 8842 | Location: Culver City, CA, USA | Registered: 08 November 2002Report This Post
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