updated 9/1/2009 10:02:09 AM ET 2009-09-01T14:02:09

The South Pacific island of Samoa will be the first nation in decades to switch traffic flow from one side of the road to another, though drivers predict chaos next week when they make the move.

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The prime minister said Monday a special Cabinet meeting had decided the switch to the left side will go ahead as planned, despite earlier protests where 30,000 marched through the streets. Around 500 people protested again Monday in the capital, Apia, saying drivers have not been properly prepared.

The government wants to bring Samoa in line with driving customs in Australia and New Zealand, where steering wheels are on the right side of vehicles, to encourage some of the 170,000 expatriate Samoans living there to ship used cars back to relatives.

That would lower vehicle prices in the nation of 180,000 people, allowing more rural residents to buy them.

Two-day public holiday
Samoa will be the first country in decades to switch the flow of traffic. Iceland and Sweden did it in the 1960s, and Nigeria, Ghana and Yemen did it in the 1970s.

Samoa's switch was delayed from July 2008 to prepare. It will take place next Monday during a special two-day public holiday to keep threatened traffic mayhem to a minimum.

"A repeated request to government from the wider public is to start the switch on the scheduled date to make it quicker for the country to become familiar with the changes," Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said in a statement after Monday's meeting.

But opponents, including a protest group called People Against Switching Sides (PASS), have accused the government of pushing the change through without adequately preparing drivers.

Last week, the Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge from PASS.

In a last-ditch appeal, PASS president Lefau Waikaremoana So'onalole on Monday urged Tuilaepa and his Cabinet to delay the switch again until all road safety requirements are in place.

But Tuilaepa said the government has already widened roads, added new road markings and signs and installed traffic-slowing speed humps on key roads on the main islands of Upolu and Savai'i.

Other opponents include bus companies that face having fleets of unusable vehicles because passenger doors are on the wrong side. The government will continue to allow vehicles with left-side steering wheels after the changeover.

More on: Samoa

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