Laila Al Amri

Laila Al Amri

Journalist

The lowdown on traffic regulations and measures for Saudi female drivers

The countdown to the official ban lift on Saudi female drivers is coming to an end, and with it, the many speculations around its rollout across the Kingdom. Only days before the decree allowing women in Saudi Arabia comes into effect, momentum is picking up with a spate of developments; among which, a couple of days ago, was the General Department of Traffic’s issuance of the first national driver’s licenses for ten Saudi women who held an international equivalent.

The move was welcome. But it also reiterated speculations and concerns around the application of the traffic criminal code on Saudi female drivers, particularly as to how, where, and how impartially it will be applied.

The real deal

In response to the ambiguity, local newspaper Okaz published the regulatory implications and details of 11 traffic violations that could result in the arrest of drivers in Saudi Arabia – particularly addressing women who will be taking the driver’s seat on June 24, in a bid to raise awareness around and prevent such violations.

Articles 73 and 74 of the traffic law, the newspaper clarifies, detail cases and violations resulting in the arrest of male and female drivers in Saudi Arabia. Article 73 stipulates that, “in the event that the violator does not attend the court hearing at the time set by the court, or does not comply with the decision taken by the court, the court holds the right to freeze the violator’s traffic processes and papers, and to take the necessary measures to ensure their attendance of the hearing and their compliance with its sentence against them.”

Article 74 states that, in cases of repeat violations that put public road safety at risk, relevant departments and authorities must, within 30 days of the violation being filed and issued, request of specialized courts to revise fines beyond the minimal amount imposed by law, and/or to consider criminal action, including jail time, against violators.

As specified by the same article, violations that are considered to pose a threat on public safety include, but are not limited to, driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or meds, and crossing a red light. In the event that such violations result in death, amputation, impairment of bodily functions, or even in a recovery period that exceeds 15 days for the victim, they are considered of criminal magnitude warranting the arrest of offenders.

Other violations also considered to cause potential hazard on road safety include driving in the opposite direction of the road, tailgating, crossing speed limits of 25 km/hr, bypassing no-entry zones, crossing stop signs, accelerating recklessly and excessively, and operating vehicles that are unequipped with basic features such as brakes and lights.

After careful consideration

The royal decree, issued by King Salman bin Abdulaziz in September 2017, stipulated the equality of men and women before Saudi traffic law and regulations. This stipulation extends to traffic violations and their corresponding punitive action and, as such, has raised questions around the setup of facilities and stations where female traffic lawbreakers would be arrested or detained.

A top-ranking official at the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Development has revealed, in several press statements, that five facilities are currently being set up for this purpose – in the event that traffic violations by future female drivers warrant detention or arrest – covering central areas in Saudi Arabia.

Currently, there are currently seven facilities housing women who are detained or arrested across the Kingdom, namely in Riyadh, Makkah Al Mukarramah, Ash Sharqiyah, and ‘Asir, said the official, adding that the ministry is currently assessing locations where the five new facilities will be headquartered. However, women detained at these centers for traffic violations will be held at dedicated areas and separately from other female lawbreakers – considering the lighter nature of their violations. In interim measures, female drivers who do commit traffic violations will be housed in the existing centers where  other female detainees are held, until facilities dedicated for them are ready and finalized.

The law above all

On more than one occasion, Saudi General Department of Traffic authorities have  affirmed that the royal decree stipulates the application of traffic law and regulations to all citizens and residents, indiscriminately of gender – rendering male and female drivers equal before not only laws governing the national traffic and driving system, but also, rights corresponding to them.

To this end, upon the decree taking effect, women in Saudi Arabia will also be allowed to operate heavy vehicles, trucks and motorbikes, provided they meet their driving conditions and requirements as stipulated by the Saudi traffic laws. They will be allowed to drive outside of their cities of residence, and their license plates will not be distinguished from those of male drivers – and will be administered by the same license plate system under the traffic law’s Article 7.

Similarly, the legal age to obtain a driver’s license is the same for both men and women – 18 years of age for a license for private cars and for motorbikes, and 20 years of age for a license for public transport and commercial vehicles, with the exception of those aged 17 years old and who were granted a temporary, one-year license.

13-year record

Building on the momentum, statements by Dr. Hind Al Dubaikhi, the first Saudi women to have obtained a driver’s license in Al-Qassim, went viral on social and local media. Al Dubaikhi had appeared in a video where she was shown receiving her national in exchange for her international driving license from the Al-Qassim traffic department, having passed the relevant equivalence test and conditions.

Al Dubaikhi received her national driver’s license on Wednesday, June 6. She started learning driving in 2003 in the confines of her family farm in Barida, before she moved to London to pursue her studies. In the UK, she would get exposed to more stringent driving systems and regulations.

Al Dubaikhi, who earned her PhD in education from the University of Southampton, said that despite having obtained her driving license in London in 2004, she never got a ticket for traffic violation in her 13 years driving through UK streets.

Saudi women’s right to drive, she added, is neither for luxury nor for show, as many would presume, but rather, a pressing and basic need for most Saudi families today, as many women shoulder day-to-day responsibilities and errands in light of their socioeconomic situation.

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