Planning a road trip? These are the stretches of tar to avoid or, failing that, the roads where you'll need to be extra careful.
South Africa has about 750,000km of road, making it – according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) – about the 10th largest road network in the world. It's also – according to international drivers' ed company Zutobi – the most dangerous road network in the world, ranking stone last on a list of 56 countries.
Drilling deeper into the data, the RTMC recently listed some of the most dangerous roads in South Africa, based on where fatal accidents took place. To help you avoid the danger on your next local road trip, let's look at six of South Africa's worst routes: where they are, what makes them so dangerous and how they compare to their safer detours.
You're driving through 420km of rural heartland here, so the dangers include animals and pedestrians on the road. High traffic volumes (which could lead to impatience and negligent driving) are another problem, and unless you start wandering down some real 'roads to nowhere', there aren't many practical detours.
You can, however, slip off the N2 and down to the coast: this is Wild Coast country, with hidden hideaways like Morgan Bay, Coffee Bay, Port St Johns and Port Edward. The roads down to some of those spots can be pretty hairy, though (the R61 between Port St Johns and Bizana is also featured on the RTMC's list)... so wherever you go, drive carefully.
If you're still driving with your dad's old copy of the South African Book of the Road, you're looking at the 220km stretch from Naboomspruit through Potgietersrus and Pietersburg to Louis Tri. (Maybe your 21st century GPS will serve you better.) This countryside road will take you through the Waterberg and up into the Soutpansberg.
The RTMC reckon that most of the accidents on this stretch are due to negligent driving – again, it's a high-volume route. Take the long way instead. Limpopo Tourism has a list of recommended routes around the province, so go exploring!
It's barely 70km long, but the east section of Witbank has a deadly reputation. The transport ministry has been working hard to fix that, upgrading the N4 Toll Route by adding lanes, consolidating farm access roads and fixing the road surface. If you're not in a huge rush, consider taking the R104 instead; it runs parallel to the highway, and you won't have to deal with roadworks.
Not every dangerous road is a remote highway. The N2 from Durban through Umhlanga to Tongaat is a notorious urban stretch (much like the N2 between Cape Town and Somerset West). Roads like this one are the perfect storm of speeding cars, careless pedestrians and high traffic volumes. If you're travelling through Durbs, maybe stick to the M4, which runs along the beachfront. It'll add a few minutes to your journey, but you're on holiday, right? Why rush?
Whether it's the deadly stretch between Pretoria and KwaMhlanga or the notorious Moloto Road, the R573 has a hard-earned reputation as one of South Africa's deadliest. About 50,000 commuters use this road every day, so from a purely volume point of view, you're already looking at an elevated risk. The South African National Roads Agency has allocated R3,3 billion to solving the problem, upgrading the road and adding roundabouts – but that project is only scheduled to finish around 2025. Your alternatives include Danger Zones 2 and 3, so whichever way you go, go carefully.
As you'd expect, the RTMC's list mostly covers busy corridors and major highways (the N2 alone makes up five of the top 20 spots). The N4 between Emgwenya (Waterval Boven) and Nelspruit ticks both boxes, but adds in extra elements of danger: a mountain pass – with stupendous views – and a railway line, and a tunnel. Elands Pass is gorgeous and the waterfall is begging to be added to your Instagram feed, but the road is very busy, with loads of heavy-duty trucks. Don't take a detour, rather drive this route extra carefully.
The RTMC reported 8,405 fatal road accidents in South Africa in 2020, which was 19% down from 2019 (but you'd expect that in a year of national lockdowns). South Africa usually averages about 10,000 road deaths a year, with the RTMC putting that down to bad driving.
'Road-user behaviour is the main cause for the high number of fatalities and this is because far too many drivers continue to disregard selected laws and road rules,' it said. 'Using mobile phones while driving and driving under the influence of alcohol are a significant contributor to road accidents. Speeding is another major cause, as is impatience, causing drivers to make rash decisions and misjudge road manoeuvres.'
You know what that means: if you're planning a road trip, be sure to have your Car Insurance in place, and try to break up your journey. Most of all, though, drive safely.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice.