With women driving soon, what will happen to Saudi families’ expat drivers?
Women in many Saudi families are waiting eagerly to drive their own cars after the holy month of Ramadan as the ban on women driving in the Kingdom will be finally lifted come June 24.
It is expected that many families will terminate the services of the private drivers because their women intend to drive themselves. However, many people see no point in getting rid of the drivers because they perform many other tasks at home other than driving.
According to an earlier report, there was a 40 percent decline in driver recruitment by the end of the year. It is also expected that the cost of recruiting drivers will decline by 33 percent.
According to the General Authority of Statistics, the number of foreign drivers in the Kingdom stood at 1.38 million in the first quarter of 2017. They received an average monthly salary of SR1,500.
With the deadline to lift the ban on women driving drawing close, Saudi Gazette interviewed a number of Saudi families about the future of their drivers.
Abrar Wafa, Saudi electrical engineering student, said she will definitely end the reliance on her driver for three reasons. She says she feels guilty when she goes shopping, leaving the driver to wait for her outside the mall for hours. The driver is doing nothing except driving her to her destination and waiting for her. "So I want to feel free,” said Wafa.
Second, it is safer for her and her family to drive by herself. “Not only now but also in the future, it is safer for my daughter to travel around alone rather than being with a foreign man,” she said.
The third reason Wafa cited for her decision was all female members of her family shared one driver and they need to coordinate with each other on when to use his services. This is an extra burden on the driver and the members of the family. According to Wafa, it is much better when a woman runs her own errand.
Rehab Mekwar, a mass communications graduate in her mid-20s, explained that she would let go of her driver as soon as she starts driving. “The driver can be a nice person, but as soon as he meets people from his country or community, he would change 100 percent. The driver keeps asking for more money or a salary raise, and he will exploit our dependency on him by refusing to give us a ride or saying he won’t drive. If we don’t obey his desire, the driver threatens to leave the work,” Mekwar said.
Most drivers do not respect time in general and they either drive them late, or arrive late to pick them up. "Sometimes our drivers takes a lot of time to get ready in order to make us upset or he drives in anger, which sometimes leads to accidents and traffic fines that come out of nowhere," said Mekwar.
"If we blame him and deduct some money from his salary because of the fine, he would not be happy and would threaten to leave the work," she added.
The driver will exploit people's generosity and become greedy, which means he will not give her a ride unless she tipped him, according to Mekwar.
“I could save the money that I give to the driver and instead use it to pay for my own car. I will be responsible and take care of the house needs. I believe that I will drive carefully and obey the rules of the road, because the last thing I want is to pay traffic fines,” Mekwar said.
“I am person who does not like to be dependent on a driver or a maid in my home,” said Nada Hafiz, a housewife in her mid-30s.
Hafiz has not faced problems with her driver, but she wants to feel responsible and independent.
Hafiz does not believe in the sponsorship system in which she is responsible for another person. “I feel responsible if my driver gets sick or God forbid he dies while he is under my sponsorship. I do not want to be responsible for him and the freedom to drive is the best excuse to relieve myself from that responsibility,” she added.
Hafiz is one the many women who will sit behind the wheel and be responsible for her own fate. She believes, however, that not many women will be driving at first as they will wait until society will accept it 100 percent.
On the other hand, there are some people who will not let go of their drivers as most drivers play an essential role in the family.
Eman Bukhari, a housewife in her early 50s, explained that she would never let her driver go. He lived with the family for several years, and he knows some important work in her house to do.
“Ahmed, the driver, is not just a driver; he does other important things in my home. I really appreciate his help in taking care of my villa and watering the plants every day. He is also responsible for taking care of electricity and the water pump,” explained Bukhari.
"Ahmed does a lot for my family. I like him to do the grocery shopping and he knows my preferred shopping destinations. He takes me to the hospital whenever I have to see a doctor. On top of everything, he knows how to deal with the crowd on Jeddah’s streets," she said.
“I don’t think I will dispense with my driver maybe because I am new to this or maybe because of my age. I am too old to learn how to drive,” she added.
Abdulaziz Muhammad, a retired Saudi man in his 60s, said his driver became part of the family as he was driving for them for more than 30 years.
Muhammad many times his driver asked to send him on final exit but I kept persuading him to stay even it meant allowing him to vacation in his country twice a year to be next to his family.
“When a driver is multi-tasked, it is impossible to live without him. With women driving on the way, I asked my wife if she wanted to end their driver's services in case she wanted to drive. She told me that there is no way she will do that as he is an important member of the family and knows everything they want. During our vacation, he takes care of the house in our absence. He also attends to the needs of my daughter and son who live separately,” Muhammad said.