Auto-pilot Cars and Restrictions to Women Driving in Saudi Arabia
Amnesty International reports that it is only in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive. This is amongst a number of restrictions targeting women that requires them to be given permission by their male counterparts or guardians. Reasons for the ban on women driving are; driving may cause women to uncover their faces, it may keep them away from home for long, threatens traditional values and may lead to overcrowding in public places and prevent proper functioning of males in such places. Worse still, there is no form of public transport that is acceptable thus they have to be driven by their husbands, a few other permitted males or taxi drivers everywhere they go. Ban on women driving without a proper public transport system specially instituted for them is therefore a big social problem.
Despite Saudi women’s driving ban being a pertinent gender segregation issue, it is clear that many of their freedoms are also abused thus worsening the few transport choices they may have. Despite the ban being a violation of gender segregation laws and not supported by the Qur’an, its implementation is an extension of numerous biased traditional and religious rules that seek to protect men’s position above women and women’s overall demeanor. Nonetheless, upholding the status quo not only means denying women their basic rights as humans but also puts them and people that could depend on them at an undue disadvantage. For instance, consider a woman living alone with a sick relative. An emergency might occur requiring that she rushes the relative to hospital. If there is no permitted male person around at the time of the incident, she would be at fault if she chose to save the relative’s life by driving to the hospital.
Besides such dilemmas, Saudi women’s predicament places them at the midst of four serious problems and risks; safety, harassment, privacy and costs. Women have widely complained of the risk they are exposed to while being driven alone by drivers they may or may not know. Any disagreement puts them at risk of being physically hurt or being left in the middle of nowhere. They have also complained about the male drivers being a bother to them since some of them do not shy away from flirting with them or using inappropriate language or gestures. Solitude inside the taxis or the taxis being driven to solitary places puts the women at a constant risk of being sexually or physically abused. Some drivers’ flirtatious conversations are an intrusion into the women’s privacy and an abuse of their dignity. Moreover, since drivers drive the women to their places of residence, their knowledge of the places sometimes encourages the drivers to come back for reasons not related to transportation e.g. sexual harassment on women living alone. The women who have to use a taxi every time they need to go somewhere find it very costly because they spend more than they otherwise would if they were to use public transportation means.
The women’s limited choices – either be driven by permitted males or take taxis to every place they need to go – are compounded by the above mentioned problems as well as lack of a public transport option. The choice to take a taxi is the more preferred choice since some of them feel that having permitted males drive them limits their freedom. Moreover, it has been established that the women prefer taxis driven by foreigners as compared to those driven by Saudi natives. Similarly, they cite various privacy and security reasons for this peculiar behavior, interestingly, against their own men. Some women consider the young Saudi males to be of low morals and that they will easily resort to harassing their female passengers. It is no wonder that women and some men who support the cause are now constantly demonstrating and demanding the kingdom’s officials to allow women to drive or at least establish a designated women-only bus transportation system. Privacy and security among other reasons should therefore be considered in any plan that seeks to solve this social standoff. Moreover, the plan has to be economically friendly such as the option of instituting public transport specifically for women.
The prospect of auto-pilot cars presents itself here; whereby it will definitely rule out harassment, ensure the privacy of Saudi women is protected and limit on excessive spending. Women-only buses also offer such advantages and could be more convenient especially because they are pocket friendlier but the convenience and privacy offered by auto-pilot cars are unprecedented. Auto-pilot or self-driving cars can sense the environment around them through radar, GPS, lidar and computer vision mechanisms and thus navigate without any human input. Such vehicles could be an all-round solution because it is easy to manage daily costs and they provide adequate privacy to the women. The complex computer, radar and GPS systems update maps using sensory input and thus the passenger as well as the vehicle itself are ‘aware’ of their location at all times. This offers a great sense of security because the computer systems ensure the vehicle does not enter uncharted areas.
Auto-pilot cars therefore could be a good solution to the ban on women driving because they serve the purpose of driving them around without interfering with their privacy, safety and to some extent, finances. The women do not drive while in the cars and this serves to protect the cultural and religious underpinnings in the ban e.g. covering faces while in the cars. They still get to go wherever they need to without fearing for their safety or harassment. Auto pilot cars therefore serve the proverbial role of killing all the birds with one stone because it protects the women from all the fears associated with being driven in taxis or permitted males yet they don’t have to drive by themselves and violate the ban. The government of the Saudi Kingdom has an option in auto-pilot cars so as to preserve its interests in the ban while at the same time being sensitive to the cries of its subjects. If this option is considered too risky, expensive or otherwise inappropriate to be implemented, then the government still has the option of women-only buses.
Saudi women suffer untold misery brought by the ban on women driving. They have to contend with safety risks and emotional abuse occasioned by sexual, physical and even verbal harassment. Moreover, their finances suffer much from having to use taxis every time they need to go somewhere yet public transport would be a cheaper and more convenient means. However, the government is adamant on protecting the ban based on religious and cultural implications and therefore a solution has to serve both interests. Auto-pilot cars are a perfect solution since they cannot violate the ban and they also protect the women from their worst fears. Even though it is possible that the Saudi women could be denied the prospect of the self-driven cars, they should not be denied the option of women-only buses. Whatever choice the Saudi government takes – even if both options are not granted – Saudi women have suffered enough and should be granted freedom of mobility. Any form of their emancipation is long overdue even if the ban has to be scrapped altogether.