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Samoa turns to the left -

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Samoa turns to the left

Barbara Miller reported this story on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 12:43:00

ELEANOR HALL: Let's go now to the Pacific Island nation of Samoa where this morning locals managed
to switch to driving on the other side of the road without causing major chaos.

Police say there were some near misses but, so far at least, no accidents.

Samoa's Prime Minister has been behind the change and our correspondent Kerri Ritchie has spent
this morning driving with him.

KERRI RITCHIE: Bleary-eyed, Samoans began gathering at 4am for a prayer service at a hall in the
heart of Apia.

PASTOR: May we all be prevented from any accident that might come about due to the carelessness and
excessive use of alcohol especially when some people do things that are stupidly unbecoming.

KERRI RITCHIE: At exactly ten to six Samoan time, sirens began to sound.

(Horns sound)

Everyone got up from their seats, walked outside the hall and stood along the edge of the road.

At exactly 6am police directed the cars to move into the other lane - then the drivers took off
along the left side.

Apia local Richard Levere wouldn't have missed it for the world.

RICHARD LEVERE: I think this is a good thing to Samoa.

KERRI RITCHIE: Why do you think it's good?

RICHARD LEVERE: The families at the back of the country, to, they get some cars from New Zealand,
Australia to develop their plantations, things like that.

KERRI RITCHIE: Are you worried about there being some crashes today?

RICHARD LEVERE: No, no, no. We all support the country.

KERRI RITCHIE: But the police are worried. Officers have been placed in every village to direct
traffic. They will stay there for the next two weeks.

The Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele decided his country would change to the left, so cheap
right-hand drive cars can be imported from Australia and New Zealand. He's faced plenty of
criticism from locals who say the switch is dangerous and a waste of money.

Mr Tuilaepa invited me along on his first outing this morning. He said he wanted to prove he's no
coward, and wasn't afraid of being on the roads.

TUILAEPA SAILELE: I think it was quite simple. The ceremony this morning was quite exciting. I did
not expect so many people present and I continue to believe that soon after the change everybody
will soon get used to driving, and I would expect no more problem.

KERRI RITCHIE: How does it feel on the left side, does this feel a bit strange though?

TUILAEPA SAILELE: Oh no, no.

KERRI RITCHIE: Now I notice that you're not doing the driving at the moment, are you going to give
it a go today?

TUILAEPA SAILELE: Ah no, the driver drives the car. I told you that I used to drive, but my driver
will be driving, this is not the car that I'm used to driving.

KERRI RITCHIE: Mr Tuilaepa is a colourful character and this morning he was in fine form.

Someone told me that you have shares in the company, of the buses that have switched the doors, the
ones that are going to be the only ones allowed to operate today. Is that correct?

TUILAEPA SAILELE: That was an old rumour way back in ... it's not a rumour, it's been alleged, when
the fellow who owns the buses was picker (inaudible). I had to get up and tell this picker, "you
better tell these members of Parliament that you are the owner of your own buses, and not to make
me (inaudible) by alleging to own something I never owned.

ELEANOR HALL: A very jolly prime minister of Samoa, ending that story from our correspondent Kerrie
Ritchie.