Protests and Anger As Country Readies for Driving Lane Switch

Samoa is readying itself for a countrywide transition that is shaking up the island country's roughly 200,000 people. Beginning September 7th, Samoans will be required to drive on the left side of the road.
August 26, 2009, 6am PDT | Nate Berg
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The move is said to be the first major lane-direction switch in any country in more than 30 years, and locals are fuming. Huge protests have broken out over a plan that many say will hurt the tiny country more than it will help.

"The prime minister who hatched Samoa's scheme, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, refuses to do a U-turn. Road-switch opponents are just trying to rattle the government, he says. He has compared a prominent opponent of the switch to a local "avaava" fish -- a sea creature that swims in shallow waters and eats garbage, an insult in Samoan culture.

The main reason for Samoa's switch is that two of its biggest neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, drive on the left-hand side, whereas Samoa currently drives on the right, as in the U.S. By aligning with Australia and New Zealand, the prime minister says, it will be easier for poor Samoans to get cheap hand-me-down cars from the 170,000 or so Samoans who live in those two countries. It could also help more people escape tsunamis, says Mr. Tuilaepa."

Thanks to Ishmael Sanchez

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Published on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal
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