Driving On The Left
Samoa has made history - it has changed from driving on the right to driving on the left. The September 2009 changeover has been done at the right time - this tiny South Pacific country is gradually getting wealthier and there will soon be more motorized vehicles on the road. If it was going to make the change, then this is the best time to do it.
The irony is that Samoa has changed from driving on the right to driving on the left. In recent history, all the changes have been from driving on the left to driving on the right.
The origins of driving on the left have been lost in the mists of time. They are assumed to go back to the days of horses. Most people around the world are right-handed (there is a gradual increase in left-handedness - but that is a separate story).
A person riding a horse would carry their sword in a scabbard on their left and would attack along the right hand side of the horse (otherwise the sword would need to be used across the horse's neck and this could be fatal for the horse!) Similarly, knights carried their lances in their right hand and so charged each other by riding down the left hand side. It was also easier to mount a horse on the left-hand side.
It is assumed that the change to driving on the right began with two developments at around the same time. First, the primary means of vehicle became the horse-drawn or oxen-drawn wagon, cart or carriage. The whip was carried in the right hand (with the reins in the left) and so the driver found it more convenient to steer on the right hand side of the road. The driver would be in the middle of the road and so could see that the wheels did not hit oncoming vehicles - while at the same time controlling the animals that pulled the vehicle.
The second change was in the late 17th century with the French Revolution. The Revolutionaries wanted to emphasize that they were different from the aristocracy and so decided that France would be different in all ways - including on which side of the road people travelled. As Napoleon moved out across the European continent, so he took this decision with him.
Britain was not invaded by Napoleon and so remained on the left - as did Russia and Sweden (which also resisted Napoleon). It used to be claimed that a person could tell which countries Napoleon had reached in the early 19th century by which side of the road people travelled. The newly independent United States opted to demonstrate its freedom from Britain by adopting the French policy. Hitler also took right-hand driving into eastern Europe in the late 1930s.
As Britain and France gradually colonized the world so they took their different policies with them. (At one point English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada were operating on different sides of the road!)
Gradually countries have shifted to the right hand side of the road. The communist 1917 Russian and 1946 Chinese Revolutionaries (like the French) opted to change sides to also demonstrate their newness. Sweden switched in 1967. Former British African colonies Sierra Leona, Nigeria and Ghana changed over in the 1970s.
But about a third of the world's population still drives on the left. It became a point of honour among the British that they still drove on the left - unlike the countries invaded by Revolutionaries, Napoleon, Hitler and the Americans!
Samoa is unusual because it has switched to the left. It was originally colonized by the Germans in the late 19th century and the New Zealanders kept the German policy when they took over the colony after World War I. American Samoa also drives on the right.
But Samoans have now made history by changing to the left-hand side. They live in a former British-controlled region where (except for American Samoa) all the people drive on the left. Many Samoans work in Australia and New Zealand and return home with cars. All the cars come from Australia, New Zealand and Japan - Napoleon never got there either- and Samoans now don't want to drive the US gas-guzzlers.
The country is doing quite well economically (not least thanks to all the money being repatriated from half the nation's Samoans who work overseas). As the number of motorized vehicles starts to increase so this is a good time for the U-Turn.
Posted by: Webeditor at 10:04 AM