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Battle between left and right in Samoa leaves -

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Battle between left and right in Samoa leaves many in the middle

Kerri Ritchie reported this story on Friday, August 28, 2009 12:26:00

BRENDAN TREMBATH: In less than two weeks the island nation of Samoa will undergo a very dramatic
change.

Drivers in this Pacific paradise who have long been using the right hand side of the road will have
to start using the left.

The country's Prime Minister is driving the change and he says speed limits have been lowered and
big arrows are being painted to prevent people from crashing.

But a group of locals vehemently opposed to the switch this week took its concerns to the Supreme
Court in Samoa.

New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports.

KERRI RITCHIE: On September the 7th in Samoa at exactly 5:50am local time anyone driving has to
stop their car and pull onto the side of the road.

After checking that the coast is clear they must then cross over the middle line and move onto the
other side of the road.

Then at 6am they're allowed to set off again. Tuilaepa Sailele is the Prime Minister of Samoa.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: We don't have that many cars in Samoa and we do not have that many people in
Samoa too. The program is yet to be worked out but I would envisage at 10 to six we will have a
kind of speech through the television and then exactly at six the call will go out, sirens and
church bells will ring and switch. We have, even in one village there could be three churches.
There will be a lot of bells ringing that morning.

KERRI RITCHIE: Switching from driving on the right to the left was his idea.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: I am going to make, to be damn sure I am on the road on that day so people will
not say that I have been a coward of sorts and stayed at home.

KERRI RITCHIE: When the switch occurs, will you feel safe driving around Samoa?

TUILAEPA SAILELE: Look when I was in Europe, I learned that in Britain on the (inaudible) of
service had never driven on the road in a country which drive on the left and within two minutes I
knew how to drive. I am speaking from experience.

Have you ever driven in Samoa on the right hand side?

KERRI RITCHIE: I've never driven in Samoa.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: I am sorry. You know this is the problem, when I say things and believe in things
it is based on actual experience.

KERRI RITCHIE: Mr Tuilaepa says the switch will allow Samoans living in Australia and New Zealand
to be able to send hand-me down cars to their relatives in the islands.

But a group of locals calling itself PASS, People Against Switching Sides, is very upset and has
launched a last ditch challenge in the Supreme Court.

Mr Tuilaepa doesn't know why everyone is so worried. He says the speed limit for the straight
stretches has been reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour and around schools people can now only
drive at 15 miles an hour.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: We are also building quite a lot of humps on the straights and on the corners;
close to 100 humps. The beauty about that is you automatically slow down without the need for
police to be around to watch whether you abide by the law.

Our workers are painting just only the square line and we will expect in several hours of the night
preceding the morning of the switch they will quickly go through and put in the arrows of
direction.

KERRI RITCHIE: Graeme Williams is a New Zealand based traffic crash investigator. He was employed
by the People Against Switching Sides group to travel to Samoa to look at driving practices.

GRAEME WILLIAMS: There are a few speed humps have been positioned and they seem to be very, very
erratically positioned.

I believe that the switch over will result in a dramatic increase in road accidents. Come switch
day these buses which carry children to and from school and people to and from villages into Apia,
they will all be offloading passengers into the middle of the roadways.

KERRI RITCHIE: But the Samoan Prime Minister isn't worried about the bus situation.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: All our schools are closed for two weeks off, normal holidays.

KERRI RITCHIE: Mr Tuilaepa, no offence to your people, but Samoans have a reputation for speeding
and being quite, well let's just say not the best drivers in the world.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: I disagree. The only drivers that are causing accidents will be those under the
influence of liquor.

We have finally introduced breathalyser tests. I do not know why we have never used that in the
past and that will provide an added check and balance.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Prime Minister of Samoa Tuilaepa Sailele ending that report by Kerri Ritchie.