When most people take drivers ed, their instructor is a teacher from school or some other person hired to teach the basics behind the wheel and the rules of the road. For some women in Saudi Arabia, however, their drivers ed teacher is someont decidely more exciting: former Italian racecar driver Francesca Pardini.
Women are beginning to take drivers education in Saudi Arabia in anticipation of the country’s driving ban for women being lifted in a few months. On the women-only campus of Effat University in Jiddah, dozens of young students wearing niqabs could be seen lining up for an hour-long driving class sponsored by the automaker Ford. For most of them, the occasion marked the first time they had ever been allowed to sit in the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle. Pardini said that she found her students eager and ready to take to the roads.
“With these girls, they’re like an empty book,” Pardini told The Associated Press. “They really want to learn.”
Ford and other car manufacturers are eagerly anticipating the end of the driving ban, which Ford marketing manager Crystal Worthem said “absolutely” will lead to a steep increase in sales. Their excitement, however, was dwarfed by that of the Saudi women, who say that being able to drive will fundamentally change their lives. While wealthy families can afford to hire drivers and use ride-hailing services to taxi women around, being able to drive themselves will open up a world of possibilities for women who might not otherwise be able to afford to commute to work, school, or even to run basic errands.
“I felt out of place. I’ve never sat on that side of the car,” said 18-year-old freshman Sara Ghouth. “Usually I always sit in the back or on the right side, but it felt good. You feel, like, in control. I want to drive a car. I want to be independent.”
Watch video of the young women learning to drive below.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.