Sunday, October 25, 2015

Traffic difference in South Africa – Erich

So far, we have not yet driven in South Africa. We have ridden in vehicles, but not driven ourselves. And a big part of why is the cost, not that renting a car is super expensive, but it is money that we don't need to spend. We are doing well with public transportation. But another pretty big part of why we are reluctant to drive is that the cars here drive on the left hand side of the road.

The cars have their steering wheels on the right side, so I suppose if I could just imagine myself in a mirror image universe, it would all be the same. Though, I'm not sure if the brake and accelerator are mirror image or the same as our own cars. I haven't ducked into a driver's seat to find out.

In the U.S. we have a white line that separates the shoulder from the road. Here, that line is yellow. But all the lines in the driving part of the road are white. If two lanes are going in the same direction, there is a broken white line between them. That is the same as in the United States. But between two lanes that go in the opposite direction there is a solid white line, unlike the yellow of the U.S.

Another thing I have seen is that in some places the solid white line becomes a solid zigzag line. It apparently indicates the approach to and the exit from a pedestrian crossing. You cannot park there or overtake another car in that area as you may not see or you may block someone else from seeing pedestrians.

Traffic lights are just like ours, same colors, same order. Of course, that is with the difference that turning vehicles wait for the right turn arrow instead of the left turn arrow, as the right turn is the one that requires crossing lanes of opposing traffic. However, their walk and don't walk signals are a bit different. They are red and green, just like the traffic lights. The green is a walking man and the red is a standing man.

The roads themselves seem to be in good shape with no potholes. I don't know if this is because of amazing road maintenance or because there is a very mild winter here and little precipitation or a combination of both.

The drivers are quite aggressive and are not shy about coming within centimetres of you when you are crossing the street. This includes when you are crossing legally at the corner. This includes when the person crossing is a nine year old or eleven year old. However, having lived in New Jersey, this kind of driving is not entirely foreign to me. And there is a lot less horn blaring than one hears in New Jersey. Incidentally, they don't call the horn the horn, they call it the hooter. Incidentally to my already incidental comment, what we call the trunk, they call the boot.

There are consistently sidewalks most everywhere. However, there are often cars parked on sidewalks and occasionally driving on sidewalks in order to park or to leave their prime parking spots. But there are many pedestrians, so there is usually some space to get around the cars. Or you have to walk in the street for a bit.

School buses are not big or yellow or even what we might term a bus. They are more like large vans that are white, though they do have letters on the side that say “school vehicle” or “school bus.”

Of course, taxis charge by the kilometre rather than the mile. Speed limit signs are in km/hr, though they actually don't say any units. They are round white signs with a number written in black and then a red circle around the white field. Stop signs and yield signs look the same. Signs that are going to show you that roads merge or split or have an intersection (basically the ones that in the U.S. would be yellow triangles) are the symbol inside an upside down yield signs. By this I mean triangles that point up with a white background and a red border. So if you see a sign warning you that there is a yield ahead, it looks something like Sierpinski's triangle.

Cul-de-sacs are labeled both with the word CUL-DE-SAC written in white letters on the road, and with a green rectangular sign with a letter T on it, but the vertical part of the T is in white and the horizontal part is in reddish orange.

So now you know more than you could possibly need to know about driving in South Africa. If any of you have been inspired to become taxi drivers here, I will take full credit, and really you should give me a cut of your fares, to be fair.


  1. You have certainly been very observant re: commuting in the big city in South Africa. I wonder if out in the countryside driving is the same.

  2. I suspect that the population being so much smaller makes a big difference. Plus, so many of the roads we saw as we crossed the country were unpaved.