JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — “O.K. Come drive now,” said the trainer.
“Oh my God,” the architecture student replied.
She climbed into the driver’s seat, put on her seatbelt, found the pedals, released the hand brake and put the car into drive. Then she took a deep breath, eased her foot off the brake and began doing, for the first time, what women will soon be doing all over Saudi Arabia: driving.
“Is this O.K.?” the student, Rahaf Alzahrani, 21, asked nervously as she inched along.
“Yes. It’s O.K.,” the instructor said.
Three and a half months remain before the date when the rulers of this ultraconservative kingdom have promised to lift the longstanding ban on women driving, and many here are already planning for what is sure to be a major change in Saudi society.
Women’s universities have announced that they plan to open driving schools, and car companies have shifted their ads, seeking to profit from the anticipated flood of new drivers — and car buyers — in this country of 32 million.
Uber is planning to recruit women to train women who aspire to be Uber drivers, and some dealerships have already set aside shopping hours for women. Ford, Nissan, Jaguar and even Coca-Cola have sought to capitalize on the buzz around women sliding into the driver’s seat.
Saudi women are approaching the change with an often complicated mix of enthusiasm and apprehension, as was tangible on Monday on the campus of Effat University in this Red Sea port city, where a number of young women piloted cars for the first time.
The university may later open a driving school for women, administrators said, but it is waiting for the government to issue the proper regulations. So the course was a more of a workshop offered by the Ford Motor Company Fund that sought to improve drivers’ safety. Since Saudi Arabia does not yet issue licenses to women, the course was aimed at women who had no experience being in charge of cars.
About 15 female students gathered in a classroom for the start of one workshop. They all wore abayas, the baggy gowns Saudi women wear to hide their forms in public. Most had their hair covered and a few covered their faces, too. Some wore tennis shoes and jeans underneath and lugged backpack and handbags.
The workshop began with a brief talk about road safety, car accidents and the huge number of them caused by texting at the wheel. Then the women broke up for more hands-on experiences.
In an outdoor courtyard, they donned goggles meant to simulate impaired vision from medication, drowsiness or drunkenness, which is not usually a problem, since alcohol is banned in the kingdom. Then they had to pilot a small wheel on the end of a pole across a map on the ground while paying attention to streets, stop signs and pedestrians.
But the real action was in an enclosed parking lot nearby, where there were real cars.
Groups of women sat in the cars while instructors explained their features: the gear shift, the gas and brake pedals, the temperature gauge, the cruise-control buttons, the turn signals and windshield wipers. At one point, a student sitting in a driver’s seat sprayed the windshield, making all of the other women laugh.
Finally, the instructor told the woman to put her foot on the brake and push the ignition button. The car roared to life and a smile bloomed on her face.
“All right!” she said, and the other women clapped.
It is hard to overstate how much the right to drive will change the lives of Saudi women. Women were long kept out of public life in Saudi Arabia, segregated from men in most settings, limited to a small number of professions or encouraged to stay home, and forced to rely on private drivers or male relatives to pilot them around.
But much has changed for Saudi women in recent years as they have been allowed to work in new fields and appointed to high-profile positions, and have graduated in ever-increasing numbers from universities. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has spoken of the importance of increasing women’s role in the work force as part of his effort to diversify the economy away from oil.
The women at the workshop all approved of having the right to drive, and some had already set their sights on specific cars. One wanted an Audi.
“It’s a strong car,” she said.
Another wanted a Mercedes, “like my dad.”
Yet another said she would send her Indian driver home and drive his car.
They said being able to drive would decrease their reliance on those who now have to ferry them around, while putting them in charge of their own schedules.
“I don’t want to drive just to drive,” said Rehab Alhuwaider, 21. “I want to be able to do my daily routine.”
She said she hated it when she wanted to go to the gym in the morning and had to wait for someone to drop her off. The best part of driving, she said, would be “feeling more freedom.”
But some were not sure they were ready to face Saudi Arabia’s often ferocious traffic, or male drivers who have no experience interacting with women on the roads.
Raneem Modaress, 22, said she had wanted to drive before a car she was riding in got hit a month ago, leaving her with bad bruises up and down her side.
“It was terrible,” she said.
Now she plans to wait to see how it goes for other women before getting her own license.
The workshop concluded with what remains a rare opportunity for women in Saudi Arabia: the chance to drive a car through a course of cones in a parking lot.
Before she got her shot behind the wheel, Ms. Alzahrani, the architecture student, said she had driven Jet Skis in the Red Sea and motorcycles in the desert, but never cars. The thought of doing so made her nervous.
“I don’t know where the brake is and where the gas is,” she said.
She started slowly, then rounded the first curve, then the second. She approached a stop sign and hit the brake too hard, causing the other passengers to jolt forward. She laughed nervously and then went forward again before reaching the end and stopping with a slightly lighter jolt.
“Praise God for your safety,” the instructor said.
“Yay me!” she said.
The drive had taken only a few minutes, but it had changed her outlook on the whole endeavor.
“It was so amazing. I loved it,” she said. “It felt good to be behind the wheel.”