Off-road Driving In South Africa: What You Should Know
Southern Africa offers almost unparalleled off-road driving opportunities to both local and international tourists, who may not always be aware of the restrictions on off-road driving in certain areas, nor the details of the legislation that regulates off-road driving activities. In this article then, we will provide a brief overview of the rules, and some of the bodies that enforce those rules.
However, you do not need to own a 4WD vehicle to enjoy the great South African outdoors- there are many companies that specialise in hiring out 4WD vehicles for almost any type of off-road excursion; from a basic 4WD vehicle for a weekend in the mountains, to a fully equipped, expedition-ready vehicle for six-month-long road trip through the length and width of the entire Southern African region. Due to the huge demand for 4WD rental vehicles however, it is strongly advised that suitable arrangements are made well in advance.
But what if your rented 4WD vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and the rental company takes forever to respond to your call? This can happen to anyone, but there is a way to prevent this, and one such measure is to only hire a vehicle from a reputable company that is registered with the:
South African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (SAVRALA)
Although membership of the organisation is voluntary, prospective members are thoroughly screened before their applications are accepted. This gives you the peace of mind that you will receive a vehicle that is roadworthy, in excellent mechanical condition, and fit for its purpose. Nonetheless, suitable arrangements must be made with the rental company if the vehicle is to be driven across SA’s borders. Some rental companies do not allow this, so make sure you get what you pay for.
However, if the unthinkable happens and you do run into problems with your rental company, you can report the matter to the National Executive Council of SAVRALA, who has the power to take disciplinary measures against a member company that includes levying an appropriate fine, suspension, and even expulsion from the organisation.
This is all very well, but if you have no off-road driving experience, the best thing to do would be to plan your holiday so that you have time to complete a driver training course presented by an instructor that is affiliated with the:
South African Off-Road Training Association (SANOTA)
This body was formed with the express purpose of establishing uniform, but exceedingly high standards to which all members must adhere at all times. Membership is restricted to off-road driving instructors, which means that if you successfully complete a course that was presented by a member, you can consider yourself to be qualified to drive a 4WD vehicle. However, SANOTA can, and does facilitate training of persons that desire to pursue a career as an off-road driving instructor.
All members of SANOTA are qualified in accordance with a standardised syllabus, and certification is supported by a Government-recognised qualification. Membership entails compulsory, and regular auditing of the skills of that member against a professional instructional base, which is an excellent way of maintaining the high standards SANOTA prides itself on.
Moreover, SANOTA is recognised by both the SA Government, and the Off-road Council of South Africa as the only body that is representative of all the off-road driving instructors in SA, and in this capacity, SANOTA is the official link between the off road driving instructors, Government, and almost every other body that shares a common interest.
So at this point, your rental vehicle is booked and ready, you have received some outstanding driver training, and your itinerary is planned in fine detail. But what happens should the unthinkable happen and you find yourself in a situation no amount of training could have prepared you for, and further attempts to extricate yourself threatens to send you over a cliff? If you keep calm, and don’t do something silly, you can call:
The Off-Road Rescue Unit (ORRU)
This is a volunteer rescue organisation that is staffed by 4WD vehicle owners that are dedicated to rescuing people in sticky situations. Unfortunately though, ORRU has teams in only five of the nine provinces, but where they are available, these highly skilled and experienced volunteers work in close collaboration with the:
- South African Police
- SA Air Force
- Civil Aviation Authority
- K9 Search and Rescue Association
- National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI)
- Mountain Club of South Africa Search and Rescue division
- Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre(MRCC)
as well as local, regional and national Emergency Management Services and other rescue organisations, both volunteer and official, all of which means that you are pretty well covered should you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
ORRU receives more than 50 calls for assistance every year, and should you call them, you will receive search and rescue services in both urban and wilderness locations, as well as emergency transport, logistical assistance, and all other required support, including communication services, but speaking of which, how do you contact the rescue services if you have no signal on your cell phone- despite the claims of cell phone companies that they provide as much as 98% cover in South Africa? Having reliable communication with the outside world can save your life, so before you leave on your off-road trip, contact the:
Off-road Radio Association (ORRA)
This organisation was founded by three off-road clubs in 1977, in order to facilitate and legalise the use of two-way radios in the off-road environment. The three founding clubs, the 4×4 ATV Club, (known as the Jeep Club of Southern Africa back in the day), the Land Rover Owners Club of Southern Africa and the Four Wheel Drive Club of Southern Africa- that collectively became the Off-road Radio Association- were issued licences for the 27 Mhz (citizen band) radios by the then Post Office, which were widely available at the time.
However, in 1997, ORRA, which functioned as an umbrella body, were allocated licences for the 29 Mhz frequency, which is still in use by the off-road community today. From 1979 to 2006, when ORRA obtained two VHF frequencies from ICASA (The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), the body that regulates all radio communication in South Africa, control of ORRA resided in the AAWDC on account of the fact that ORRA could not quite manage the administration of the system.
In 2009, control reverted to ORRA, and in 2011, ICASA issued an additional VHF frequency for use by the off-road community, which was growing so fast that upon application, ICASA granted ORRA another six VHF frequencies. The upshot of this rambling history is that today, all bona-fide off road clubs have access to 9 VHF radio frequencies, provided only that clubs that wish to use radios, must apply to ORRA for recognition, and thus permission to use radios on the 9 allocated and licensed frequencies.
This fact takes care of the communications issue within the boundaries of South Africa, so most of your bases are covered but one problem remains, and this involves restrictions on off-road driving in certain areas of the country. The Government department that decides on who gets to drive where is the:
Department of Environmental Affairs
and it is strongly advised that everyone contemplating an off-road excursion familiarises himself with the regulations, which are available here. While it is still possible to drive on some beaches some of the time, permits are difficult to come by, and they are valid for only for specific purposes during clearly defined times.
However, some wetlands in the interior are also very well protected against unauthorised entry by 4WD vehicles, and it is vitally important to plan your trip in such a way that you have the use of a licensed guide, if you do not have the required Certificate of Competence to enter and drive in these ecologically sensitive areas.
Almost any off-road club can provide details on training to obtain certification- alternatively, contact The Association of All Wheel Drive Clubs of Southern Africa for details on how and where to obtain the Driver Competency Certificate, or DCC for short, without which you may find it impossible to obtain vehicle insurance, irrespective of whether you are planning to drive in sensitive areas or not.
Salo de Swardt
Tel: 08611-22932 / 08611-AAWDC
PO Box 12566
One more thing…
Off road driving is South Africa is an expensive and sometimes complicated affair, as it is in other places in the world, which is why it is important to know where, when, and under what circumstances off-road driving is allowed in SA to prevent the possibility of receiving fines, or worse, the authorities from confiscating your equipment.
More importantly though, the privileges enjoyed by the off-road driving community are just that-privileges, and they will remain that only for as long as every off-road driver adheres to the rules, which are getting more restrictive with each passing year to protect the environment against damage caused by uncontrolled off-road activities.
Of equal importance is the safety of everyone involved in off-road driving activities, and we hope that the information contained in this article will go some way towards making your next excursion a safe, enjoyable, and thoroughly rewarding experience.
More Off-Road Associations and 4×4 Role Players
- AAWDC (Association of All-Wheel Drive Clubs of Southern Africa)
- NAAMSA (National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa)
- SAVRALA (Southern African Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association)
- SAROOF (Southern Africa Route Owners and Operators Forum)
- SANOTA (South African National Off-Road Trainers Association)
- 4WDGA (4-Wheel-Drive Guides Association of South Africa)
- DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs)
- ORRA (Off Road Radio Association)
- ICASA (The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa)
- ORRU (Off Road Rescue Unit)
- NORS (Norms and Standards for 4×4 activities)