Traffic switches to the left side in Samoa

On 24 July 2008 Tuisugaletaua Avea, the Minister of Transport, announced that the switch would come into effect at 6:00 am on Monday, 7 September 2009.

He also announced that the 7th and 8th would be public holidays, so that residents were able to familiarise themselves with the new rules of the road. Samoa is the first territory in over 30 years to change which side of the road is driven on, the most recent to change being Nigeria, Ghana, Yemen and Okinawa.

A new political party, The People’s Party, had formed to try and block the change but was unsuccessful as was the People Against Switching Sides protest group which launched a last minute legal challenge against the decision. The decision remains controversial with an estimated 18,000 people attending demonstrations against it in Apia in April 2008 and road signs reminding people of the change have been vandalised.

The motor industry was also opposed to the decision as 14,000 of Samoa’s 18,000 vehicles are designed for right-hand traffic and the government has refused to meet the cost of conversion. Bus drivers whose doors are now on the wrong side of the road threatened to strike in protest of the change.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi says the purpose of adopting left-hand traffic is to allow Samoans to use cheaper right-hand drive vehicles sourced from Australia, New Zealand, or Japan, and so that the large number of Samoans living in Australasia can drive on the same side of the road when they visit their country of origin.

He aims to reduce reliance on expensive, left-hand drive imports from America. In order to reduce accidents the government has widened roads, added new road markings, erected signs and installed speed humps. The speed limit was also reduced and sales of alcohol banned for three days.

The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa has held prayer sessions for an accident-free changeover and Samoa’s Red Cross carried out a blood donation campaign in case of a surge of accidents.

The change came into force following a radio announcement at 5.50 local time (16.50 GMT) which halted traffic and an announcement at 6.00 local time (17.00 GMT) for traffic to switch from the right to the left-hand side of the road.

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