Some words of caution

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OUT for a short drive on Monday I noticed the following on the roads: Seven motorists busily engaged in a conversation with their phones stuck to their ears. Three vehicles with infants straddling their mothers who seated them precariously on the front seat besides the driver. Fourteen other vehicles had drivers who had obviously forgotten to put on their seat belts. During this driving span, I also noticed two passing patrol cars.

Now the reason I bring this up is that in just a few short days, women will be joining these motorists on the road. The dawn of their driving will commence on June 24 as per a royal decree issued in September 2017. According to the traffic department a substantial number of driving licenses have been issued to qualified female motorists who are undoubtedly eager to exercise their newly granted rights on our streets and roads. The government has to be applauded for taking such a step that overcame decades of resistance from hardliners and has brought the Kingdom on a par with the rest of the civilized world.

And here is my concern. June 24 is also a date when most of the Kingdom’s employees will be returning to work following the Eid holidays. With motorists clogging our busy roads, unquestionably it will be a novelty seeing a female behind the wheel for the first time in this country and will definitely arouse unabashed curiosity within some male motorists. It may also trigger some unwanted attention by a few road Romeos.

As a seasoned driver, it takes me some time to adjust to new roads and traffic demeanor in different parts of the world, and I expect that same initial uncertainty to be experienced by most of our female motorists. I am not sure how well some of the women granted driving licenses are trained but I hope to God that they have also taken into account that they may face some harassment on the roads either from some Romeos or hardline extremists who may not be too happy seeing them behind the wheel. How well shall our female motorists deal with such situations remains to be seen. As far as I know, driving schools do not teach you how to avoid such unwanted attention.

One may argue that the recent passed laws against any form of harassment should be enough to deter such kinds of responses, and yes indeed these laws are very explicit in detailing the punishment to the perpetrators. But then we have many other laws in the books, laws that often continue to be ignored and remain unenforced, a small example being the incidents mentioned in the first paragraph of my column.

Have our men in uniform and particularly those on the roads and streets responsible for traffic control been properly briefed and trained to deal with this new form of aberrant behavior that may arise, and that God forbid might lead to catastrophic accidents? Only time will tell, but meanwhile I caution all motorists, and not the just the females, to be extra cautious the first few weeks.

A car on the road is not a toy and can be a deadly weapon and our roads in the past have witnessed many horrific car accidents and crashes. Drive sensibly and with increased alertness and keep your eyes on the lookout for potentials sources of trouble. Drive only if you have to until the dust settles and familiarity creeps in. Report any suspicious activity immediately to the authorities. You could be saving someone’s life.

With strict law enforcement and appropriate civic behavior, this transition into the new dawn on the Kingdom’s asphalt network can be a pleasant one. Drive safe and remain safe.

— The writer can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com; follow him on Twitter: @talmaeena


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