The latest travel advisory update issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) relates to a big change on the roads in a country that’s increasingly interested in tourism – and it’s no laughing matter.

“From 24 June 2018, women will be permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia,” DFAT stated in advice issued on Friday.

“Make sure you have adequate insurance cover and familiarise yourself with local traffic laws before driving. The level of our advice has not changed. Reconsider your need to travel to Saudi Arabia overall. Higher levels apply in some areas.”

DFAT’s warning is not tongue-in-cheek. It’s just advising travellers that big changes are happening on roads in Saudi Arabia and to be aware.

A selected minority of women in Saudi Arabia have from yesterday been legally allowed to take to the roads.

It’s part of a reform program that aims to propel Saudi Arabia into the 21st century as far as driving goes. Up till now, the very conservative Middle Eastern kingdom has banned women from driving, being the last country in the world to do so.

All systems go for women drivers in Saudi

Many studies show women drivers to be safer than their male counterparts, and this may prove true in Saudi Arabia.

Reasons for the long-lasting ban included a fear that woman might find themselves in cars with men who were neither their husbands nor male relatives, a no-no in Saudi culture.

Not that there will be many women on the roads, even now. So far 30 women in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second city, have been granted a licence, the Guardian reported.

A number of women who have agitated for the reform have been arrested and jailed and nine remain in prison. Several have been accused of “treason” by state-run newspapers, the Guardian said.

Driving schools around Saudi Arabia report increased interest.

DFAT advisory update

Although most tourism in Saudi Arabia largely involves Muslim religious pilgrimages, there is growth in the leisure tourism sector. The country started issuing tourist visas in April, having clamped down on such visas in 2010.

Seeing the success of the tourism industry in neighbouring states Dubai and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has launched an ambitious plan to attract 30 million visitors by 2030.

Written by Peter Needham