Like you, many tourists want to know if it is safe to drive in Cape Town? So, firstly South Africa has an extensive national road network which is of a world class standard. In Cape Town this world class national road network extends to the municipal road network. So, you can be rest assured that there will be no problem using a hired vehicle on your Cape Town South Africa vacation.
South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road so if you come from a left hand drive country this might take some getting used to, especially when turning into a road. In other words, the driver in South Africa gets in on the right-hand side of the vehicle.
In general, driving in South Africa is not any more dangerous than driving anywhere else in the world, if you keep your eyes and ears open and watch the traffic. Also, drivers do not drive more aggressively than drivers in other parts of the world.
We will briefly explain the road network in Cape Town and give you some driving tips that will get you moving around Cape Town as a local.
When arriving on your Cape Town South Africa vacation
If you are intending to drive in Cape Town, we would suggest that you plan to pick up your hired vehicle when arriving at the airport. Please read our blog on Cape Town International airport for tips and directions on how to find the vehicle hire kiosks. There are several reputable vehicle hire companies located at the airport and we would suggest that you use one of them. There are cheaper options available in Cape Town but then you need to make arrangements to collect the vehicle and incur the extra cost for a transfer from the airport to your hotel.
You can also collect a map at the vehicle hire kiosk and ask them for directions to your hotel. The other alternative is to buy a local SIM card when you arrive and use your phones GPS to navigate to your hotel. The airport is located alongside the N2 National Freeway which takes you directly into town. If you stay on the N2 and head towards the mountain you will end up at the entrance to the iconic Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.
Cape Town has three national road networks namely the N1, which heads inland towards Paarl, the N2 which hugs the southern coast towards the Garden Route and the N7 which takes you to the West Coast. The signboards for these routes have a blue background and are easily identifiable.
The M routes are the secondary network and make up the main arterial network in Cape Town. The two M routes you need to be aware of are the M3 heading pass the University of Cape Town to Kirstenbosch Gardens and the M5 heading pass Muizenberg beach to Cape Point nature reserve.
All routes and destinations are well signposted which makes driving in the Mother City easy for first time visitors to Cape Town South Africa.
Tourist attractions and places of interest are signposted with brown signs and include the major attractions like the Waterfront, Table Mountain, Cape Town stadium, Kirstenbosch Gardens and the Wine routes.
Many of the major routes in Cape Town have speed over distance cameras so we would advise sticking to the speed limit. Speed limits vary from 60km/hr in residential and built up areas to 120km/hr on the National road network. Slow down at major intersections and do not jump the traffic lights(referred to as robots in Cape Town) as these intersections have sensor cameras to catch offenders.
When driving on dual carriageways the general rule of keep left, pass right applies. As a tourist driver we would advise that you stay in the left lane especially when looking for destinations. When driving on the freeways the exit lane is on the left, so it will be easier for you to exit when you find your destination.
Driving at night in the CBD and surrounding municipal area is safe. A general rule is not to leave valuables or bags on the seats where they are visible. It is a criminal offence to handle your mobile phone while driving so make sure you have someone with you if you intend using your phone’s GPS system. Please note it is a criminal offence to be handling your phone while driving regardless of whether you are speaking on it or not.
Wearing of safety belts is compulsory in South Africa and you will be pulled off by traffic officers(cops) if you are caught without your seatbelt. You will encounter numerous traffic cops on the roads and they are identifiable by their blue uniforms. Cape Town traffic police also have ghost squads made up of unmarked vehicles and motorbikes(see picture). Be advised that the traffic cops in Cape Town use super bikes so you cannot outrun them LOL. So please follow the road rules like most drivers in Cape Town.
Never Drink and Drive. Most serious accidents in South Africa are caused by drunken drivers. Currently the law allows for a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
This equates to approximately:
- half a pint of beer or spirit cooler with 5% alcohol content
- one glass/75ml of wine with up to 14% alcohol content per hour
- one tot/25ml of whisky or brandy per hour
Parking when visiting tourist attractions
All the major tourist attractions have generous parking facilities available. You will find free parking when visiting Kirstenbosch Gardens, Table Mountain, Wine route and the numerous beaches along our beautiful coastline. At most of these places where you do not pay for parking you will find “car guards” that will look after your vehicle. This is part of the Cape Town informal economy and they provide a service by looking after your vehicle and helping you to find a parking. You can provide them a tip as this is there only source of income. Anything from R10,00 (1Aus dollar) will be much appreciated.
When visiting the Waterfront or other malls you will pay for parking and the amount is dependent on the duration of your stay. Standard rates at the Waterfront underground parking for one hour is R10,00. You will receive a ticket when entering the parking which you need to insert into an automatic payment machine before returning to your vehicle. The automatic payment machines takes coins, notes and credit cards.
Parking in the road within the CBD is managed by the City of Cape Town and parking attendants are employed by the City. They will issue you with a ticket when you park and you can pay them when you get back to your vehicle. These attendants have mobile electronic units to monitor your time and the price is regulated. You can pay them with cash, credit card or Snap Scan, a mobile payment app.
Hiring a vehicle is probably the easiest and most convenient way to get around Cape Town. The road network is of a high standard and has most of the standard safety features that you will find in most large cities across the world. All signs are in English which makes navigating and finding your way around easy. We wish you a safe journey on your Cape Town South Africa vacation.
Please feel free to ask any questions or leave comments on your experience of driving in Cape Town.