In­struc­tor hits road with Saudi women

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Hil­lary Davis hil­lary.davis @la­times.com Davis writes for Times Com­mu­nity News.

Norma Adri­anzen has her foot on the gas pedal of his­tory.

With the decades-long ban on women driv­ing in Saudi Ara­bia now lifted, the New­port Beach driv­ing in­struc­tor is one of just three women worldwide train­ing the in­struc­tors who will teach Saudi women how to take the wheel.

Adri­anzen ar­rived in Saudi Ara­bia about two months be­fore the ban ex­pired in late June and ex­pects to be there at least a year. She is joined by col­leagues from Wales and Canada.

Women with ex­pe­ri­ence driv­ing in other coun­tries have been ju­bi­lantly and proudly driv­ing in Saudi Ara­bia in the days since Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man ended the decades-long, un­writ­ten policy. The ban was an eco­nomic bur­den on the many Saudi fam­i­lies that couldn’t af­ford chauf­feurs, even as it made con­di­tions more dif­fi­cult for women to join the work­force.

This is a mon­u­men­tal shift, Adri­anzen said by phone from Dam­mam, a Saudi port city along the Per­sian Gulf.

Adri­anzen and her hus­band, Car­los, run New­port Driv­ing School, a pro­gram li­censed by the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles that teaches new driv­ers of all ages and cul­tures.

Sev­eral months ago, a com­pany work­ing on be­half of the Saudi gov­ern­ment reached out to New­port Driv­ing School by phone and email, Adri­anzen said. At first, she wasn’t sure whether the pitch was real.

But she agreed to a 3 a.m. in­ter­view over Skype.

Adri­anzen, who has more than 20 years of teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, was among 1,500 po­ten­tial in­struc­tors, Car­los Adri­anzen said.

“They chose the best peo­ple … in the world,” he said.

Now, Norma Adri­anzen, her col­leagues and their stu­dent in­struc­tors — about 30 in the first group — are head­long into a pro­gram that com­bines 20 hours of lec­tures and 40 hours of be­hind-the-wheel train­ing.

Adri­anzen and her col­leagues must es­tab­lish a school from scratch us­ing Saudi road rules.

The in­struc­tors prac­ticed on a pri­vate sur­face be­fore be­ing free to take the road. The stu­dent in­struc­tors, also women, got their first ex­po­sure to driv­ing in the United States or Canada as well as Western cul­ture and rules of the road through Adri­anzen’s ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Our stan­dard in Amer­ica is re­ally high,” Adri­anzen said.

She noted that adults take longer to learn.

Adri­anzen said many Saudi men learned to drive in­for­mally and that the male-hired driv­ers there aren’t es­pe­cially safe or skilled.

Cul­tur­ally, she said, the coun­try is try­ing to make the roads safer for women. The gov­ern­ment has set up a hot­line for women to re­port men ha­rass­ing them or driv­ing ag­gres­sively to try to in­tim­i­date them.

“It’s a good change for the coun­try,” Adri­anzen said.

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