Time: June 24, 2019
- Last year this time, Arab News did not have any female staff who possessed a Saudi driving license
- One year on, the first successful applicant commutes to work every day with the family driver in the passenger seat
JEDDAH: At 10:55 p.m. on June 23, 2018, I was glued to my TV set in Hungary. I was waiting for the clock to strike midnight in Saudi Arabia and for the first engines to roar with my fellow Saudi women behind the wheel. I vowed to return to my home country and grant myself a well-deserved privilege — my own Saudi driver’s license.
I applied for my license in August on the Jeddah Advanced Driving School’s website as soon as I found an opening. I paid SR2,520 ($600) with the promise of a placement test at a later time. I called customer service, who explained that because of the high demand I should check every day until I found an opening.
The requirements were a valid ID card, a medical report and an eye exam. Clinics and hospitals are linked with the traffic department and the school’s database, so the school received the results directly.
I drove after returning to Saudi Arabia in late September, sometimes accompanied by my brother, to test the waters. Driving was allowed in areas where the police knew families practised regularly as long as they were careful. I know my city’s streets pretty well and driving wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. But when I hit major roads I wanted to change my mind. It takes a while to adjust to the change from being a passenger to being the driver. But the training lowered my anxiety.
I took my placement test on Jan. 7. I entered the driving school and saw women instructors, some with past experience driving abroad and others recently employed after having passed the assessments. No men were allowed — and that was a welcome gesture for many.
I got behind the wheel of the car with my instructor, who didn’t look much older than 30. She smiled at me reassuringly as I eased the car toward the designated test area. I passed the placement test, even after struggling to parallel park. I was ranked intermediate, which meant I was required to complete 12 training hours.The hours were to be divided between classroom instruction and practice with an instructor. The school deducted SR1,102.5 from what I initially paid, and I will be refunded the remaining amount.
It took two months from the placement test to the theory classes and another two for the final exam. The wait was because of the volume of students applying. On May 14, I returned to the school one last time. I passed with a score of 87 percent.
I have noticed that drivers around me barely register that I’m a woman. I get looks sometimes, but they come with smiles and the occasional thumbs-up.