September 8, 2009 in Nation/World

Samoa’s lane change takes place smoothly

Keni Lesa Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Land Transport Authority workers install traffic signs in Apia, Samoa, on Sunday, a day before the driving-side switch.
(Full-size photo)

APIA, Samoa – Car horns and sirens sounded, church bells rang and roads crowded with vehicles Monday as Samoa made its switch to left-side driving.

Hundreds lined streets in the capital, Apia, to witness the move from the right to the left on the country’s highways as police manned scores of checkpoints, warning drivers to slow down.

The government is bringing Samoa in line with Australia and New Zealand to encourage some of the 170,000 expatriate Samoans there to ship used cars – with steering wheels on the right side – home to relatives.

Despite predictions of chaos, there were no immediate signs of driving difficulties. Critics of the change had accused the government of pushing it through without adequately preparing drivers.

The switch was being ushered in with a two-day national holiday to cut traffic volumes and a three-day ban on alcohol sales to help avoid road crashes.

Police Minister Toleafoa Faafisi used a national radio broadcast to instruct drivers everywhere to stop their vehicles. Minutes later, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi broadcast formal instructions for drivers to switch sides on the highways at 6 a.m. local time. Drivers were then ordered to resume their journeys.

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