Aisha Bint Abdullah

Aisha Bint Abdullah

Journalist

Saudi Arabia roots for female drivers in “Trust and Take Off” campaign

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s decree lifting its enduring driving ban on women was met with a lot of speculation. Saudi leadership responded with firm decisions and frameworks to alleviate concerns by both local and international communities around its commitment to women’s empowerment. Now, the leadership’s measured steps have materialized in a reformative overhaul of Saudi women’s state of affairs and rights.

Under the motto “Trust and Take Off”, the latest of these steps has been a series of initiatives rallying support for and empowering future female drivers in a safe and encouraging environment, and not without reason; since the decree was issued, concerns were raised around the road safety and anti-harassment frameworks put in place for Saudi’s future female drivers.

On June 21, the “Trust and Take Off” initiatives were launched in tandem across four Saudi cities (Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Tabuk) in a three-day educational and awareness series, with the collaboration of a number of governmental and civil authorities, and under the supervision of the Saudi General Department of Traffic. Primarily to break fear barriers of getting behind the wheel, the initiatives were designed to introduce future female drivers in the Kingdom to road safety and security regulations, as well as to ease them into driving and navigation technologies.

The three-day event also tackled motor information gaps, ‘safety-first’ traffic principles and frameworks, and road navigation rules in an edutainment format. Activities, competitions, field visits and experiential simulations were held on-site for both women and children to introduce them to the mobility culture.

Road safety

As reported in a number of local newspapers, Mohammed Al-Bassami, director general of the Saudi Traffic Directorate, said that the entity’s participation in these initiatives aimed at enforcing and reaffirming the role of the wider family unit in road safety – the Saudi minister of interior affairs had previously pointed to female future drivers’ significant educational and parental role in spreading a culture of road safety and security, and limiting human and economic losses incurred by fatal road accidents in the Kingdom.

To this end, Al-Bassami  thanked Saudi leadership for its historic decree allowing women to drive, with the hope that it be a springboard to a culture of conscientious and safe driving among Saudi families, built on principles of public safety, and a solution to reduce the Kingdom’s historical fatality toll from road accidents.

Abdulrahman Al Khorasan, director general of Riyadh Traffic, stressed on the importance of communal efforts in awareness and education for female drivers, in collaboration with the Saudi General Department of Traffic. These initiatives, he noted, would form a launching pad for Saudi female drivers in a safe and growth environment, and under the strong backing and guidance of the country’s leadership.

The Kingdom’s awareness endeavors are slated for a wide rollout across Saudi cities – and for now, are taking place at the Riyadh Park, Dammam Corniche, Jeddah’s paragliding area facing the Red Sea mall, and in Tabuk’s King Abdulaziz Park. They have also secured solid sponsorship backing, including Rakah Telecom, Saudi Aramco, Dallah Al-Baraka Group, and Al Hokair Group.

Tough action

Efforts to rally behind female drivers come at a time when Saudi local news outlets have reported, on behalf of reliable sources, that the Saudi General Department of Traffic was near finalizing a list of new penalties and punitive provisions to be enforced against traffic lawbreakers.

These new provisions will be announced in a few days, the reports claimed, and covered punitive action for traffic violations, such as driving in the opposite direction of the road and crossing speed limits, among other abuses that are considered to pose public road safety hazards.
Sources were also quoted to say that the new penalties would go up to 6,000 Riyals for traffic violators – and similarly will apply to motorists driving without front or back license plates.

These amendments were carefully timed with the ban lift on Saudi female drivers – officially scheduled on June 24 – in efforts to ensure strict road safety and to minimize potential hazards for female drivers in their first days in the driver’s seat.

They are also long due reforms in the Kingdom; Saudi Arabia’s fatality and injury toll resulting from road accidents is the largest in the world, recording 12,000 deaths in the last 12 months alone. Financial losses incurred by the Kingdom’s road traffic accidents for the same period reached nearly 27 billion Saudi Riyals – that, in addition to 39,000 critical and near-fatal injuries, among which 3,000 cases of physical impairment were registered.

Zero hour

In the last few days before the decree comes into effect on June 24, a number of social media communities have been circulating tips and preventive measures for women who will be getting behind the wheel, and encouraging them to overcome obstacles they encountered on the roads.

Tweets by the “"قيادة المرأة (@women_to_drive) account particularly resonated with Saudi women in the past few days, as they shared preventive measures for female drivers’ road safety and traffic regulatory compliance – from safety distances between their and other vehicles, to road parking regulations, to anti-theft measures.

But most importantly, they encouraged women to remain calm, collected and confident while driving, and to ignore any intimidation or harassment they encountered on the road. As the historic day approaches, women will be exposed to false rumors and accounts of harassment and kidnapping incidents among Saudi female drivers, the tweets said, calling on women to only rely on official sources to closely monitor traffic developments.

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