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Rules of the road abroad: What you should know

Aug 4, 2021

When you are travelling or emigrating to another country, the new road traffic rules can be particularly challenging. At what speed are you allowed to drive and what constitutes drunk driving?

Although most people around the world drive on the right side of the road, there are some 70 countries in the world where motorists drive on the left side of the road, as in South Africa. These include Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Tanzania, Thailand and Indonesia.

Speed limits on freeways can also differ significantly from one country to the next. Germany’s Autobahns have no speed limits in certain areas, while in Britain you are only allowed to drive 112 km/h, 140 km/h in Bulgaria and 160 km/h in the United Arab Emirates. In countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Jordan, Tunisia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates not even a drop of alcohol is allowed in your system. In America, Canada and the United Kingdom one is only regarded as being under the influence once you blood alcohol level is 0,08 gram (compared to South Africa’s 0,05 gram). European countries such as Germany, France and Italy’s rules regarding drunk driving is more in line with that of South Africa, while the limits in Sweden, Poland and Norway are much stricter.

Countries like Norway and Finland have the some of the strictest road traffic rules and most expensive fines. Skipping a red light in Norway can get you a fine of about R13 000 (€756) and driving under the influence could result in a fine of R100 000 (or about €5 784). In Finland, fines for locals are calculated according to a formula that takes into account the person’s annual income as well as the severity of the offence. Subject to this formula, a rich Finnish speedster had to cough up a fine equaling approximately R2 million!

One of the rules you specifically need to research, is for instance whether it is allowed to turn on a red light. In some countries it is allowed and in others not. Find out who has right of way at a traffic circle – in some countries the vehicle that is already in the circle has right of way, but in some other countries it is the vehicle that is entering the roundabout.

Most countries allow you to drive on their roads with an international driving permit (IDP), which is simply a document that translates your license to other languages This document is also usually necessary if you wish to rent a vehicle, and even when it is not, you will still need it in case you are involved in an accident or are pulled over by the police.

Strange road traffic rules from around the world:

  1. In Saudi Arabia women were only granted the right to drive since 2018.
  2. In Russia it is illegal to drive around in a dirty vehicle. This even applies to the interior of your car!
  3. In Germany you can be sentenced to five years imprisonment if your vehicle runs out of fuel on the side of a freeway.
  4. In Cyprus you are not allowed to eat or drink while driving.
  5. In Manila in the Philippines registration plates are colour-coded to allow people to only be on the road on certain days, in order to reduce traffic on the roads.


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