Celebrations, feelings of happiness and relief on first days of driving

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Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH
– Videos and photos went viral on social media of women celebrating their first rides in the streets of the Kingdom, a number of which couldn’t wait till morning from the excitement and started driving at midnight of June 24.

Saudi Gazette accompanied a number of women eager to go on their first experience driving in the streets of Jeddah.

Rafah Altaweli drove from her house in a busy district in southern Jeddah to Tahlia Street accompanied by her driver for support. “I was hesitant to go for a drive in the beginning but then I was encouraged when I knew other women drove in the morning,” she said.

On the way from her house in southern Jeddah to Tahlia Street, seeing women driving in the streets is a new scene for some people who commended her.

“Since it’s faster to issue a driving license for those who already have a foreign one, a lot of women driving now are experienced drivers so I don’t expect there will be accidents like how some people exaggerated it to be,” she said.

Altaweli is a scholarship student in the United States pursuing her PhD in architecture and plans to continue teaching at King Abdulaziz University once she returns. During her summer vacation, she says she’s glad to experience this historic moment and noticed other changes, such as more openness in society as well as more entertainment that was previously banned in public.

Like most women, she believes driving will make a big difference in her daily life.

Although she’s confident on the road, other drivers not following the rules are prone to cause road accidents however. “Simple things like have street lines and requiring people to stop at stop signs are important,” she said. “It’s not the power for who has the bigger car but who follows the rules.”

Ohoud Alhaj, among the first Saudi women to obtain driving licenses last month, said it was liberating to go to a simple outing like a café and not have a driver wait for her outside.

With nearly 11 years of experience driving in Europe and Lebanon and studying university abroad, she found it challenging to change her lifestyle once she returned home. “For an independent person who knows how to drive, it’s hard to give up that control to another person to move around,” she said. “People take this simple matter for granted but I was thrilled when the royal decree was announced.”

She recently started a social media account sharing tips and information to help others be confident on the road.

Her account titled ‘Time to Drive’ on Instagram spreads awareness on safe driving and etiquette as well as a guide for women who want to start driving. “Since I was one of the first to get my license, I got a lot of questions from my friends and relatives on how to apply to the General Directorate of Traffic in addition to other questions that are not necessarily addressed at the driving school,” she said. “So I decided to start a public account and share all this kind of information to reach a wider audience.”

A graduate from the local driving school in Jeddah, Yara Al-Qahtani describes her experience as a smooth one and was glad to see women instructors.

She’s confident that her 3-week training allowed her to drive from her house to a nearby mall alone.

She’s overjoyed that her daily frustration of sharing the driver with her three sisters and riding with Ubers would be over.

“The greatest thing from this whole experience is that I got my licenses here, which I never expected would happen,” says Yara, who lived in Canada since she was a child and was surprised to find male drivers when she first visited Saudi Arabia.

“My patriotism increased so much with this decision and all the support that the Crown Prince and the King have for women.”

Many consider the historic step a milestone that will accelerate other advancements in women’s empowerment as well as men’s perception of women.

A surge in demand of more than 120,000 women have applied for licenses and are expected to fill the roads in the coming period, according to the General Directorate of Traffic.


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