The September 26, 2017 decree by the Saudi King granting women permission to drive is to take effect on June 24, 2018, and the various Saudi authorities have been taking measures in preparation for implementing it, such as issuing a Saudi driver's license to women who already have a foreign one.
Saudi academic and women's rights activist Dr. Hotoon Al-Fassi, who writes for the daily Al-Riyadh, complained that the measures being taken are inadequate and that the authorities are creating difficulties for women who wish to drive – although, she underlines, it has been proven around the world that women are safer drivers than men. Writing in the press and on her Twitter account, she noted, for example, that not enough driving schools for women have been opened, and that the task of teaching women to drive has for some illogical reason been assigned to universities. Moreover, she said, women are charged six times as much as men for driving lessons, suggesting that some people are trying to make profits at their expense.
Al-Fassi, who has a driver's license issued outside Saudi Arabia, continued to criticize the implementation of the reform after she obtained her Saudi license. Early this month, she described the bureaucratic difficulties she encountered at the traffic department: She applied for a license in Riyadh and was given an appointment to undergo the required procedures, but then the appointment was postponed indefinitely. She therefore took advantage of a visit to Mecca to apply for a license there, but her appointment was again postponed by several days. Eventually she received the license with mixed feelings of excitement and bitterness, she said.
Al-Fassi also continued to criticize the insufficient number of driving schools for women, especially in large cities like Mecca, and gave voice to the complaints of many women about this matter.
The following are translated excerpts from Al-Fassi's articles and tweets on this subject.
There Are Not Enough Driving Schools For Women And Lessons Are Too Expensive
On April 24, 2018 Al-Fassi wrote in Al-Riyadh a column titled "Questions about the Preparations for Women Driving," which also appeared in English in the daily Saudi Gazette. The following are excerpts from the English version:
"Women in Saudi Arabia are looking forward anxiously to Shawwal 10, 1439H [June 24, 2018] when they will be allowed to sit behind the wheel. On that particular day, the Saudi women will end their dependence on their private drivers and begin their normal lives in which they will not be waiting for a diver to drive them to their destination and back and drive them on errands. It would also end their dependence on the driver, who might have gone out with no one knowing when he would come back. The women will no longer be seeing a car parked outside the building [and have to look at its driver with] scorn, unable to touch [the car]. They will not be calculating their money to pay the limousine, the taxi or the app-share cars. They will not struggle with their dignity looking [for] a husband, a brother or a son to take them on their trips.
"The anxious wait of the women, which began about eight months ago, was accompanied by projects related to this giant move, including the opening of schools to teach them driving, [passing] laws against harassment, and creating traffic jobs for women. What has so far been accomplished in the readiness for women driving in June? I feel pessimistic about the slowness of the arrangements being taken for the historic step.
"Let us begin with the schools to teach driving. A number of universities announced that they have assigned areas for women to learn driving and have also dedicated other areas for their parking. Personally, I do not see any link between universities and the teaching of driving to the women. The teaching of driving to male teachers and students had nothing to do with any of the universities, which expressed willingness to teach women driving. Princess Noura University in Riyadh, Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University, King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Al-Manie Health College in Dammam and the universities of Taif and Tabuk have all said they were willing to teach their women staff and students how to drive cars. The department of traffic has, however, kept silent and did not tell us why there were no driving schools in other areas of the Kingdom. What will be the situation of women in other cities and towns?
"After the issue of the limited number of the schools, comes the topic of the driving lessons. Eight months have passed and we believed that women [had] already started taking lessons in driving especially that we saw many times in the newspapers and the TV pictures of women behind the wheels. These photos suggested that the women [had] started learning driving while the actual fact is that a very little number of them have done so on experimental basis. Many women who already know how to drive took the lessons so as to polish their skills and to get trained on driving on the street and acclimatizing themselves with street sense and traffic.
"Other facilities like Al-Manie Health College in Dammam was prevented even from publicizing their intention to train women on driving which will only begin after two months when they are officially allowed to drive under a royal decree. What exactly is going on? We need answers.
"Let us now move to the price of the lessons. Princess Noura University said the cost of 30 hours of theoretical and practical teaching in addition to the use of simulator would be SR2,400 plus the VAT of course. According to the Ministry of Interior, the men, who do not have driver's licenses, will need 15 days of education at the cost of SR560. What is the matter? Why do the projects concerning women will turn into exploitive schemes for which women have to pay dearly?
"We are waiting for an answer from the traffic department."
Hotoon Al-Fassi at the wheel (image: Twitter.com/AlfassiHotoon)
Women Are Safer Drivers Than Men, But They Are The Ones Saddled With Obstacles
In a May 2, 2018 column in Al-Riyadh, Al-Fassi complained that women are required to take more lessons than men, and at a higher cost, even though they are known to be safer drivers. She wrote: "The statement of [Dr. Hamid Al-Mo'jil], head of the Saudi Traffic Safety Society, which was formed in 2010 to raise awareness of road safety, was very strange and full of contradictions, [but] apparently reflects a common mentality. [Al-Mo'jil] justified the [cost] of driving lessons for women, which is six times higher [than for men], on the grounds that women are careful! Unaccountably, he also justified the small cost and limited number of driving lessons required of men. He appears to think that [men] are born with excellent driving skills, although the society [he heads], whose goal is to [promote] road safety awareness, is the one monitoring our traffic accident [situation], which is bad. He sees no connection between this and the men's bad driving... or the poor teaching at the [driving] schools, which apparently do not teach too many traffic rules.
"Every day we see accidents and failures that are the result laxity in teaching [driving] and in issuing licenses [to men]. It seems that they [now] want to put the blame for all these violations and failures on women, although insurance companies around the world have determined that they drive more carefully and are more careful of their lives and the lives of their passengers."