Manama: Saudi Arabia's consultative council will soon discuss a proposal to allow women to drive, a local daily said.

The likely debate of the highly controversial issue was prompted by a petition from 128 Saudi men and women who urged Shaikh Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Shaikh, the council chairman, to launch discussions about the right of Saudi women to obtain a driving licence and drive, Al Yawm reported.

"As there are many Saudi women who drive in other countries, they should be allowed to do the same in their own country," the petition said. "We do not think that you or any other citizen would accept to see a Saudi woman on the side of the road begging a taxi driver to take her to hospital for instance," the petitioners said in their letter to Shaikh Abdullah.

The petitioners said that the law allowing women to drive should be accompanied by a set of strict rules that stipulate harsh action against males who harass them or annoy them as they drive.

"Stringent actions should include detention and prison terms as well as high fines so that no one would dare to bother women drivers," the petition said.

Other measures include setting up driving schools for women and opening offices in the traffic buildings that would deal exclusively with women, the petitioners said.

Initial reactions to the report in the Saudi daily ranged between support for the petition to outright opposition, the daily reported this week.

Those who were against the petition said that allowing women to drive would result in new social and family problems.

"Allowing women to drive means an increase in the divorce rates, loose family ties, more expensive spare parts, new and more crimes, less commitment for Islamic values and immoral activities, " Mazen, a blogger wrote.

However, those who endorsed the call said that Saudi Arabia should not remain the only country in the world where women are not allowed to sit behind the steering wheel and that the multi-layer reforms should not exclude women.

"Women need to be allowed to drive so that they can be more self-reliant. They will not depend on others and we will not so many foreigners as drivers. Women have often proven that when they are given the appropriate chance, they deliver and perform in a highly respectable manner," Hassan Haji wrote.