Is there a good reason why women can't drive in Saudi Arabia?

One of the most popular criticisms leveled against the Saudi Arabian kingdom and its domestic laws is that women are not permitted the right to drive themselves. Now, I have never heard of a single Saudi woman complain about these restrictions, and I have often heard that because they all have chauffeurs we shouldn't feel too bad for them. However, it had never occurred to me that there is a very practical reason why the Saudi, or any other Middle Eastern government would not want women behind the wheel.

My friend sent me the photo on the right in an e-mail joke under the crude heading of, "A pointless family photo". The same friend also called me recently after nearly getting run off the road by a woman in full traditional Muslim garb to ask if there is anything he could do to get a law passed that would prevent people who wear obviously visually obstructive cloths from driving. My initial reaction was that there was no way, nor reasonable justification, to propose seriously such a measure, but when I received this photo I began to rethink this assumption.

I really think this there is a possible justification for not permitting women to drive when they are dressed in the way the women in the photo are, and maybe the roads in Saudi Arabia are safer than those in the United States because of these practical measures. I have never heard of a serious accident caused because of negligent or reckless driving by a woman whose vision was impeded by her head scarf. However, I think it is important not to dismiss the Saudi policies as offensive or oppressive because they deny the right of an adult woman to drive. In fact, the Saudi's may be acting responsibly and in the interests of those women.

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