Driving in Saudi just the ticket 12 months on from first license
Today, July 4, 2019, marks the one-year anniversary of me receiving my first Saudi driving license, and a symbol of my independence.
I remain jubilant and in disbelief that this has come about during my lifetime. Bearing witness to my teenage dream, a collective dream really, has a special kind of elation that only dreamers such as myself can fully experience.
It goes without saying that I am deeply grateful to all the government officials, civilians, and good Samaritans who contributed to the creation of this new reality.
Most importantly, I must thank the leadership of Saudi Arabia for its political will to decisively make this happen in such a speedy, efficient and organized manner, and I applaud the choice of Dr. Nabeel Al-Amoudi as the Kingdom’s transport minister. There is no greater satisfaction for a civilian than seeing one’s government select the best and brightest people for key positions.
Under Al-Amoudi’s leadership, his ministry has coordinated with other agencies and Saudi ministries to achieve spectacular results.
For example, highways have been repaired in record time, new signage has been put in place, and state-of-the-art equipment to communicate instructions and raise awareness has been installed.
Saudi Arabia now rivals the best in how its roads reflect the state of the country which is a good indicator of what’s to come. The Kingdom is headed in the right direction, skeptics beware.
One must also salute all the departments of Muroor for their hospitable welcome to women at the DMV, and their tireless vigilance on the roads and roundabouts to ensure safe passage for all. I feel safe driving in Saudi Arabia: Very safe from a government security perspective.
From my personal experience of driving in Saudi, when it comes to other drivers, I have had a mixed bag between chivalrous courtesy, and inadvertent yet dangerous games of chicken. The speed at which some commuters drive is a risk to human life.
It is good that the government activated the automated Saher system of ticketing speed and other traffic violations. But there are still those who present a hazard by driving on the shoulders of highways.
Such an incident happened to me the other night. A green SUV sped up very close to my car. I had no way out, because I was wedged between the SUV and another vehicle to my right. In a fog, I found my car swerving between lanes and it is a miracle my little niece and I are still alive.
My inner Marie Antoinette would like to fine the shirts off such reckless drivers. I am an advocate of very high fines when it comes to driving, as I find it to be the most effective and efficient way to change behavior.
Another group of drivers I would like to mercilessly fine are those who litter. This country spends vast resources to clean, green, and beautify its public spaces. And laborers toil in our unforgiving weather to keep our shared spaces tidy. It is utterly unacceptable for citizens to disrespect our public spaces which should be treated as sacred or at least with a higher degree of respect.
In Los Angeles, there are fines of up to $1,000 for littering. I recommend Saudi Arabia follows suit. It breaks my heart to see plastic bags and water bottles hovering over the beautiful flower beds or grassed areas that this great nation bestows for our visual pleasure and spiritual well-being. Why mindlessly tarnish such efforts? It is bad citizenship, not to mention the environmental damage it causes. Let them be fined, I say.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. When I got a flat tire on a desolate highway at night, a couple stopped by to check on me. Another young chap stopped and offered to stay with me until help arrived. As I declined several heartfelt offers, three chivalrous men, reminiscent of knights in a fairytale, insisted on rolling up their sleeves and fixing the problem on the spot.
It took approximately three hours, as nearly all the tire stores were closed. I will never forget those angels. My mother and older brother spoke with them over the phone, and they are as noble and generous as Arabian legend.
In summary, thanks again, Saudi Arabia for your willful efficiency, for the talent you hire, for the best practices you enforce, and for making the female population feel safe driving in this vast, magical land of palms and dunes.
• Aiyah Saihati is a businesswoman and an opinion writer.