Samoan’s driving on the left. Why?

So, a few weeks ago I got back from spending a month in Samoa and Fiji. Interesting places. Perhaps I’ll blog a bit more with some observations on them in the near future.

Today I just want to make one curious observation. Apparently, for as long as anyone can remember, cars drove on the right in Samoa (this is “Western Samoa” I’m talking about, as opposed to American Samoa). For some reason however, their wacky PM pushed to change all that. In September 2009, Samoans were all forced to start driving on the left hand side of the road. There were a lot of protests leading up to it and predictions of widespread mayhem, but fortunately, things went pretty smoothly.

Why did the PM push for this?  He claimed it was to make used cars cheaper in Samoa by taking away the need to import (left-hand drive) cars from North America and by encouraging Somoans living Down Under in Aus and NZ to ship cars back home.   He also vaguely claimed it was “To bring Samoa more in line with other Pacific nations.”

Personally, I suspect it was really more about xenophobia on his part, which his secondary reason seems to allude to.  While in Samoa, it seemed there were almost daily comments from him in the local newspaper that smacked of a real chip on his shoulder against the U.S.   In fact, there was quite a number of  “chip on the shoulder” sort of xenophobic comments in newspaper editorials etc.  These comments were extended towards pretty much all foreigners, not just Americans.  The Chinese seemed to be at least as big a target for such comments.

I think I understand where a lot of these comments are coming from, but I’d love to hear from some Samoans with their thoughts on the matter.

p.s. Apparently, as a follow up to his road wackiness, the PM is now pushing to have Samoa’s time zone changed.  He wants to move the international date line to the East a bit so that Samoa will jump 24 hours ahead, and no longer be on the same “business day’ schedule with the U.S.   I guess that’s one way of leading his country into the future. :-)

2 Responses to “Samoan’s driving on the left. Why?”


  • Hi Dr Sam. I am a Samoan born and bred in NZ. There are over 150,000 Samoans living in NZ, and another 60,000 in Australia – compared to 190,000 in (Western) Samoa. So from my perspective, changing sides of the road makes sense. I guess my issue is the way PM Tuilaepa implemented his change, but that’s a different matter. Again, with the date change, Samoa is closer to Australia and NZ than the US, and it would make business sense to have the same Mondays and Fridays as your closest trading partners. In terms of PM Tuilaepa’s xenophobic comments, Samoans are very proud of our independence, our history and our culture. His comments may play to those Samoan characteristics politically, but I also think there is an inherent trait to most Samoans to be very insular-looking, conservative and therefore somewhat arrogant of being Samoan. Samoans believe, as I do, that we have been in Samoa since time immemorial, and we will be there till the end of days.

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