As I am sure every reader of this will know, women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia; a ban that many women within Saudi would like to see lifted. After all many of these women actually hold international driving licenses and are able to drive overseas. But maybe we should first of all examine how the men in the kingdom drive before we look at the campaign by women;
Driving in Saudi Arabia
I like driving in Saudi Arabia, but then I also enjoy demolition derby and riding in the bumper cars at the local fairground. In twenty years of driving before I went to Saudi Arabia I have never hit another car, twice however I have been hit from behind; once by a truck while my car was stationary in the UK and I was pushed 100 yards along the road and the previous time by a pickup truck in Nairobi which roared off as fast as it could to avoid paying for the damage. I have driven in Europe, the US, Africa, the Philippines and a few other countries and I have never experienced what I have seen in Saudi Arabia.
I have been hit now several times in Saudi, a few times from the rear, twice from the side and once returned to my parked car to find the entire side completely caved in where someone had driven into my car; and the nice pious Muslim driver didn’t bother to leave his number and offer to pay for his damage, maybe he expected that Allah will provide!
Daily I have seen accidents on my way to and from work, sometimes more than one accident in a day. I have seen 20 cars end to end as each has driven into the next when a car stalled in an exit from a highway, I have seen a car hit another at very high speed and fly through the air into the opposite lane into oncoming traffic. I have seen more accidents and poor driving in Saudi than in any other country in all of my accumulated years of driving.
I have narrowly avoided hitting a car reversing down the middle lane of a main highway to return to a missed exit and have on a few occasions encountered drivers driving in the wrong direction against the flow of traffic on main highways. The hard shoulder, central reservation and even pavements are regularly used for high-speed overtaking maneuvers by impatient drivers.
I have been the victim of road rage; a man actually tried to smash up my car with an iron bar as I was driving too slow in front of him! Thankfully I have two black belts (little known fact) and stand well over six feet with a not unsubstantial frame so was able to disarm the guy before harm was done. It still took several other Saudi drivers a considerable time to restrain and calm the crazy man!
But women here still want to drive! I can only hope that the presence of women on the roads will calm the testosterone fueled driving that is currently encountered on the roads.
The following videos will give you some idea of what driving is like in the country, the first uses subtitles but it has some horrific statistics regarding road traffic accidents in KSA.
Road Traffic Accident Statistics For Saudi Arabia
Saudi Traffic Accident
Women wanting to drive in Saudi Arabia
There have now been a few protests in Saudi Arabia during which several women have been arrested and imprisoned. The most famous is probably Manal Al-Sharif who placed a video on youtube of herself driving. She has lost her job, been imprisoned and even been “killed off” in a road crash by a Saudi newspaper. She is the subject of a Fatwa by a Saudi Cleric and has received many death threats; all for wanting to drive.
There is a short article about her here.
Manal Al-Sharif Driving
Manal Al-Sharif Speaking at the OSLO freedom Forum 2012
There has now been a long running campaign for women to drive, in the last week a petition has been delivered to the king with over 600 signatures to ask for women to be given the right to drive. While 600+ signatures may not sound like a huge number you have to remember that many of the women that have taken part in these protests have been imprisoned, faced getting lashes and have received death threats and many other problems. Putting your name to something like this in the Kingdom is a very bold move. Women have been urged to take to the roads again today, we shall see what results from this action.
Women should breastfeed their drivers
Women have been trying to use everything they can think of to get to drive, after all they should not really be allowed to be driven by a driver who is not their close blood relative or their husband. An outspoken cleric a few years back suggested that the women should breastfeed their foreign drivers to make them their son, women started to threaten to do so if they were not allowed to drive!
Impact on Expat Drivers in Saudi Arabia
If women are allowed to drive it will have an impact on many of the expats who are employed within the kingdom as drivers, many will find their services are no longer required. That being said I think it will be quite a while before there would be a significant number of drivers having to leave the kingdom. Many women that I know do not want to drive, they actually enjoy being driven around and they will certainly be retaining their drivers. Those that do want to drive will have to get driving licenses so it is going to take some time before we see significant numbers of women on the roads.
Should Women be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia?
I’m a westerner so my views are very much that women should have the right to drive themselves and not be shackled to their men folk. Without being able to drive it is very hard for women to work in Saudi Arabia, or do anything else for themselves. It also leads to stupid situations where I have seen very young boys driving large vehicles just to take mum out, several times I have been shocked to see young children behind the wheel chauffeuring their mothers, by young I mean pre-teen drivers.
Eventually women will be driving in the kingdom; but in this highly conservative society things are very slow to change and their will be a few more demonstrations and confrontations before it finally does happen.
I just hope that when it does that it brings a calming effect to the idiotic crazy driving of the men on the Saudi roads! GO GIRLS!