The Independent State of Samoa
has just 200,000 citizens, but you can be sure many are a little less than placid today. They are undergoing a shift that few nations have done; one that may be as jarring as when Jekyll changes to Hyde.
They are about to change lanes. In a big way.
Samoa is the first territory in over 30 years to change which side of the road is driven on (the most recent switch-hitters before them being Nigeria and Ghana. There have been several countries that moved from left-hand driving to right; very few have gone the other way. Most switches have been to accommodate the flow of surrounding countries; Okinawa Prefecture did it to symbolize its return to Japanese control after the US took over.
When Sweden first brought the issue forward
in 1955, just over half the citizens voted; however the result was strongly against a change in direction. Twelve years later
the change was implemented anyway.
Interestingly, accident rates in Sweden during the first two months were down from the norm; they soon returned to the average rate. This was likely due to the extensive planning, legislation and redesign that was undertaken to increase capacity, rework problem intersections, reduce parked vehicles and change how pedestrians cross. Okinawa was not so fortunate
The changeover plan in Samoa has not been well received
, and could meet with more opposition
in the days to come. Many Samoans feel that the current government has not made sufficient preparations; over 18,000 protested in April of 2007. In a one-party country this has not mattered much to the will of the government. Local chiefs, called Matais, do have influence
. The government recognises the ancient tribal customs enforced by the Matai as part of modern law. Many Matai are not onside with the planned change; some have vowed to disobey the new traffic laws. Other citizens advocates worry that, since most buses are not allowed to drive (their doors now open onto traffic), many poorer citizens will face difficulty and added expense getting to work.
indicate things are calm at the moment. Today however was declared a national holiday, so the real test will be when people return to work tomorrow. Sadly, any problems with the transition, or the details of Samoa's underlying issues will likely not register very high
on the West's radar.