In America, we take so many of our liberties and privileges casually — not realizing citizens in other countries STRIVE for such fundamentals, such as … driving a car!
Driving a car a privilege? It is not attainable yet in many countries, including Saudi Arabia. In the U.S., 16-year-old females cannot wait to get behind the wheel — and click the seatbelts it is presumed. However, in Saudi Arabia 16-year-olds don’t have a chance — and neither do their mothers.
There is a neat article about this in the October edition of Automobile magazine. The founder of Automobile, David E. Davis, Jr., was an auto-industry friend for many years. Davis died this year; the magazine continues in his tradition.
In describing the Saudi driving situation, Automobile reports, “Several women, organizing via Facebook and Twitter, got behind the wheel last June in a public protest. A few were arrested and otherwise harassed, but the campaign continues on the Internet and has recently included calls for automakers — namely Subaru — to stop selling cars in a country where not all are allowed to drive them.
“In a phone conversation, Automobile asked a recent female Saudi driver about her experience. “You either have to beg a male relative — your father, your brother, your husband, to take you somewhere. If you don’t want to go through that and you want to have a foreign driver (hiring a Saudi man to drive is cost prohibitive), you need to apply for a visa … you don’t know this person … there isn’t a background check … every other day you open the newspaper you hear of a driver who has raped, killed, or kidnapped someone. I have an 18-month old son. I don’t want my son to be in a situation where I have to worry about him.”
The magazine asked the Saudi lady about the reaction to her driving. “Most people were noticing us and were flashing us the victory sign and thumbs up — they were excited about it. People say that the Saudis are not ready for Saudi females to drive. We passed so many drivers who didn’t realize it was a woman who was driving. The idea of Saudis not being ready is absurd.”
Asked if she was pulled over by the police, she replied, “One incident. And the policeman told us to just go home. He was very nice.”
She added that not being able to drive is “frustrating, very frustrating. And demeaning at the same time.” Automobile also quoted material compiled by Revs Institute, which listed “Famous Female Firsts.” These included:
1888. Two years after Karl Benz was granted a patent for his three-wheeled Motorwagen, his wife, Bertha, drives it 62 miles in Germany.
1905. Mary D. Allen opens a car dealership selling Stevens-Duryeas in Brooklyn.
1909. Alice Ramsey drives across the U.S. covering 3,800 miles. (152 of it paved). She was 22 years old.
1911. “The unfavorable influence of the automobile upon pregnancy has been somewhat exaggerated,” concludes a report in the New York Obstetrical Society.
1914. World War I pressed European women into service driving ambulances, trucks and tractors.
1915. Movie star Anita King drives across the U.S. by herself. She also sets a record by driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 17 hours and 55 minutes.
1928. Elisabetta Junek, from Czechoslovakia, takes the lead in the Targa Florio. She later says a rock thrown by a spectator caused her to lose the race.
1929. British aristocrat Dorothy Paget funds Tim Burkin’s effort to race supercharged Bentleys. W.O. Bentley hates it.
1936. Chrysler hires a female engineer, Mary Virginia Sink.
1949. Louise Smith participates in a NASCAR race.
1955. The Dodge La Femme targets female drivers with pink and white paint. It’s a flop.
1957. General Motors hires nine females to the design staff, albeit at lower pay than their male counterparts.
1971. Females are given access to the pits at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
1977. Janet Guthrie qualifies for the Indy 500 and finishes 29th.
1990. Nearly four-dozen Saudi females drive in the capital city of Riyadh. They are banned from leaving the country for a year, and those with government jobs are fired.
2005. The number of licensed female drivers in the U.S. surpasses that of males (and the gap is widening).
2008. Danica Patrick’s victory at the Japan 300 makes her the first female to win an IndyCar race.
Another great achievement for females is the MADD organization —Mothers Against Drunk Driving — what a driving force for highway safety!
Dr. George G. Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and distinguished executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business at the College of Charleston. He can be reached at 2 Wharfside St. 2A Charleston SC 29401.