Samoan drivers switch sides of the road

Barry Markowitz
Barry Markowitz
Togaloa Alomiu
Togaloa Alomiu
Paplil Viopapa-Annandale
Paplil Viopapa-Annandale

By Zahid Arab - bio | email

SAMOA (KHNL) - Big changes went into effect for Western Samoan drivers this week and that has some fuming mad. It's the first country in decades to make drivers switch sides of the road.

While some expected chaos as they pushed in their clutches, it seems the change avoided any major problems. But, people aren't quite sure of the reason for the new rule.

It's a frequent blunder for Barry Markowitz.

"I always walk on the wrong side of the car," said Samoan Citizen Barry Markowitz.

It happens on business in New Zealand, now maybe the same in Samoa.

"Trying to remember what side of the car to get into is going to be funny," said Markowitz.

Samoan drivers were thrown a detour.

"They changed the bloody roads on us," said Bus driver Togaloa Alomiu.

Motorists made the switch from the right to the left side of the road, but not everyone welcomed the new rule.

"There's vandalism of the signs showing the new direction, one village actually repainted the arrows the other way," said Markowitz.

The government says it made the switch for economic reasons. An estimate of nearly 170,000 Samoans in Australia and New Zealand ship their cars home to relatives with steering wheels on the right.

Aside from directional issues, bus drivers have "beef."

"They have to change the doors to the other side," said Markowitz.

They must alter their buses so riders can enter and exit on sidewalks. That comes at a cost.

"There are a lot of these guys here who can't even afford to feed their kids," said Alomiu.

The move was initially postponed more than a year. Still, critics say motorists weren't properly prepared.

"I think the economic arguments surely cannot be balanced against the risks to people's lives," said People Against Switching Sides Spokesperson Paplil Viopapa-Annandale.

Practice makes perfect, but Markowitz says the final say on the switch's impact may be a matter of "we'll see."

"It's going to be fun going back to Samoa around the cava bowl," said Markowitz.

Government officials say they'll continue to allow vehicles with left-side steering wheels after the changeover. That's good news for many drivers who buy those types of cars from American Samoa just about 60 miles away.