What Saudi women need to know before they get behind the wheel
When King Salman made the historic announcement last September that the de facto ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia would end on June 24, his decree stated that the road traffic laws would apply equally to both women and men. Saudi traffic laws are detailed and extensive. But what are the most important areas that relate to women driving?
The Traffic Department is responsible for regulating drivers and vehicles in the Kingdom, and for issuing driving licenses. The term “vehicles” is not limited to cars, but also extends to regular bicycles, machinery, trailers and buses, although not trains.
No one is permitted to drive without having obtained an official driving license. A security officer has the right to view this license. It is valid for 10 years, and must be renewed within 60 days of the date of expiry. Failure to do so is punishable with a fine of up to SR300 ($80). In the second and third years, the license must be renewed one day after the date of expiry.
Not only is it dangerous to allow someone without a driving license to drive your car, it is also illegal, punishable with a fine of up to SR900 on the owner of the vehicle. If the unlicensed driver causes an accident, they will be held jointly liable with the car owner. Also, your driving license is your responsibility; you may not give it to a third party or mortgage it, which is punishable with a fine of up to SR900.
Motor insurance is also important. Every driver is required to have a valid insurance policy that covers full civil liability arising from death, injury or damage to property that may result from a road traffic accident. An insurance company may not insert any provision in a policy that excludes the company’s coverage of this full civil liability, and the car owner has the full right to return to the insurance company if the terms of the insurance contract are breached.
Some insurance companies delay compensating the insured driver. The traffic laws address this procrastination by specifying a period of 15 days from the date of determining the costs of an accident to compensating the insured driver.
To guarantee the safety of vehicles on the road, the law requires you to submit your vehicle for a technical inspection three years after it is first registered, and annually thereafter. In the case of an accident, the damaged parts of your vehicle must be examined to ensure that it remains safe to drive.
Finally, a warning about photographs. The sight of a woman driving is still something of a novelty, and it has become common to take photos of women at the wheel without first obtaining their permission, and sharing the photos on social media. Beware; this may be considered a violation of an individual’s right to privacy, an offense under the Saudi Anti-Cybercrime Law punishable with a fine of up to SR3 million and up to five years’ imprisonment.
This was a just quick initial look at Saudi traffic laws; we will certainly be elaborating more at a later date. Drive safely!
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif