Saudi says ready to lift female driving ban next month

An official said “all the requirements” were in place to allow women to drive



Saudi Arabia is ready to lift of its female driving ban next month, an official said on Tuesday.

The director general of the General Department of Traffic, Mohammed Al-Bassami, said in a government statement that all the necessary preparations to go ahead with the historic decision were in place

“All the requirements for women in the kingdom to start driving have been established,” he said, according to local media reports.

The announcement indicates the kingdom will be sticking the June 24 deadline specified in last September’s royal decree.

Bassami said women aged 18 years and older would be able to apply for a licence, while those applying for a public driver’s licence must be 20 years old.

Women with foreign licences will be able to convert them at 21 facilities across the kingdom but they will need to take a driving assessment.

“It is no secret that many women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hold driving licenses from abroad,” according to the statement.

The kingdom has established specialised schools across five cities to train female drivers although local media reports have indicated the cost of lessons is significantly more expensive than for men at around SAR2,000-3,000 ($533-800).

Read: Saudi women seeking driver jobs to face tough restrictions

Under new traffic laws, driving lessons of between six and 30 hours will be required based on the applicant’s skills.

“Applicants are required to pass a medical exam, theoretical and practical driving tests and complete the required hours of training in accredited driving schools,” according to the statement.

Arabic publication Al-Madina reported on Sunday that women looking to work as family drivers when the ban is lifted will face tough restrictions.

Among the rules are that female drivers cannot serve male-only groups of passengers and even if a woman is present they cannot accept the trip should a male or child be sat in the front seat.

Read: Saudi women seeking driver jobs to face tough restrictions

Allowing women to drive is expected to lead to a sharp fall in demand for foreign drivers, who would traditionally be hired by families to transport women and children.

Read: Saudi demand for foreign drivers expected to decline 40%

However, estimations of how many women will get behind the wheel vary.

Professional services firm PwC said in a March report that just 20 per cent of women in the kingdom are expected to drive by 2020.

Read: PwC says just a fifth of women in Saudi will drive by 2020

In contrast, market research firm Kantar TNS said 82 per cent of women were contemplating getting a licence when asked in a survey it released in October.

Read: Study reveals 82% of Saudi women plan to drive

Another survey conducted by Uber and Ipsos found 78 per cent of respondents were likely to get a driving licence after the ban was lifted and 31 per cent were interested in driving as an earnings opportunity.