As freedom for Saudi women to drive looms, engines are revving - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

As freedom for Saudi women to drive looms, engines are revving

Women in Saudi Arabia will begin to be able to legally drive in June. (Source: Ford Middle East) Women in Saudi Arabia will begin to be able to legally drive in June. (Source: Ford Middle East)

(RNN) - It’s still a number of months until women officially can drive in Saudi Arabia, but they’re beginning to learn.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young and influential deputy crown prince of the kingdom, announced the ban on women driving would be lifted last September. It was a barrier women had long sought to break in the highly conservative country.

With the official date when women can get behind the wheel looming on June 24, lessons and other preparations for the change are beginning to sprout.

A three-day driving course began on Monday at Effat University in Jeddah, a major city on the western coast of Saudi Arabia. It is one of a number of initiatives ushering in the new age.

Ford Middle East organized the classes. Nissan previously did something similar. And the Middle Eastern ride-hailing service Careem is already recruiting women drivers.

“We are very excited about this in June, it is a big milestone for the country,” Magnus Olsson, a Careem co-founder, told Thomson Reuters in February. He said the service already has 1,000 drivers signed up.

At the driving class in Jeddah on Monday, The New York Times reported 15 female students attended. One woman, Rehab Al Huwaider, told the paper she was anticipating “feeling more freedom” with the ability to drive herself around.

Another, Rahaf Al Zahrani, said the experience was “so amazing. I loved it. It felt good to be behind the wheel.”

According to Al Arabiya, a state-owned news outlet, travel agencies in Jeddah have been inundated with women looking to go to neighboring countries just to take driving lessons.

Another event promoting women joining the driving ranks is scheduled for later in the week at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh.

The new Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Khalid bin Salman, the younger brother of Mohammed bin Salman and son of King Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 82-year-old monarch, said at the time of the announcement: “I think our leadership understands our society is ready.”

Just last week the Italian diplomatic mission in Jeddah held a small ceremony to honor a woman for achieving a particular driving milestone: becoming the first Saudi woman to own a Ferrari.

“Today I am so happy … that in a few months we Saudi women are going to drive in our own country,” said the woman, Aseel Al Hamad. “Today I stand here telling you that driving is an art, and driving can be really fun.”

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