Samoans on tenterhooks as driving switch starts

Samoans are bracing themselves for chaos today as motorists switch to driving on the left.

Samoa will become the first nation in decades to officially swap from one side of the road to the other when it ditches a century of US and European-style right-side driving and adopts the left side used by Australia and New Zealand.

Around the country workers have been frantically preparing the roads, turning around signs and painting arrows to remind drivers which side of the road they should be on.

But recent rain has held up the work and made the roads more slippery and dangerous than usual.

Dozens of signs have been put up in preparation for today's switch from the right but many have been defaced with graffiti directed at the Prime Minister who is driving the changeover.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi remains adamant that the timing is right but enraged bus owners and other protesters say he is wrong.

Bus drivers are angry at having to install new doors so passengers do not have to get off in the middle of the road and two villages have threatened to stop traffic if it drives on the left.

Nanai Tawan has threatened to drive his fleet of buses to Parliament and set them ablaze.

"We don't know what to do, we have no hope, no assets, we've got big loans," Tawan told One News.

Tuilaepa hopes the 180,000 Samoans living in Australia and New Zealand will send cars home to replace gas-guzzling left-hand drives.

About a third of the population are understood to be against the switch and a lobby group unsuccessfully took legal action to try to stop it.

Those against the switch say the country is not ready.

Dr Lefau Waiharemoana So'onalole from the group People Against Switching Sides has been calling for a delay so "the Government can finish everything it needs to do to make it safe".

But the Government disagrees.

"I drove in the middle of London, the cars criss-crossing all the time," said Tuilaepa. "It took me three minutes and I knew how to manoeuvre."

- NZ HERALD STAFF, AGENCIES

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