Women in this strict Muslim country finally get to sit behind the wheel and legally drive for the first time starting Sunday. One side benefit: This milestone could decrease the nation’s exorbitant traffic fatalities.
“Saudi Arabia has one of the highest accident rates in the whole world, and that’s why safe driving is so important to us,” said Haifa Jamalallail, president of Effat University, whose 17-year-old daughter died in a crash on a Saudi highway. “Statistics show that women are generally safer and more defensive drivers than men.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced last fall that Saudi Arabia would become the last remaining country to allow women to drive, reports the USA TODAY.
Soon after, the Saudi interior minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, said lifting the driving ban on women would reduce the number of accidents in this conservative country that has one of the worst car-crash mortality rates in the world.
“Women driving cars will transform traffic safety. It will reduce human and economic losses caused by accidents,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has tried reducing speed limits, investing in more traffic signals and roadside speed-warning signs, plus tougher penalties for moving violations. These changes helped Saudi Arabia drop from its 2010 record for the world’s highest death toll from road accidents to 34th place in 2017.
Still, a male-only driving population killed more than 9,000 people in 2016, mainly because of speeding, according to the latest government statistics.
Saudi Arabian officials say allowing women to drive could also boost female employment and revitalize auto sales, which have declined in part from falling oil prices the past few years.