Rights groups have long campaigned for the ban to be overturned, and some women have been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel.
But the momentum to change the policy has picked up in recent years with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a 32-year-old son of the king who has laid out a far-reaching plan to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and society.
Beyond the effects it could have on Saudi Arabia’s image abroad, letting women drive could help the Saudi economy.
Low oil prices have limited the government jobs that many Saudis have long relied on, and the kingdom is trying to push more citizens, including women, into gainful employment. But some working Saudi women say hiring private drivers to get them to and from work eats up much of their pay, diminishing the incentive to work.
In recent years, many women have come to rely on ride-sharing apps like Uber and Careem to gain some freedom of movement.
Despite the announcement, women will not be able to drive immediately. The kingdom has no infrastructure for women to learn to drive or to obtain drivers licenses. The police will need to be trained to interact with women in a way that they rarely do in a society where men and women who are not related rarely interact.
But many of the kingdom’s professionals and young people will welcome the change, viewing it as a step to making life in the country a bit more like life elsewhere.