Switching to the correct side

A coordination game is one where everyone benefits from choosing a similar strategy but there are many such strategies so the issue is how coordination occurs. Usually, we think of which side of the road you drive on as a legal issue but it is actually a coordination issue: we drive on the same side as everyone else otherwise things would be bad if we took liberty into our own hands.

With that it is really interesting when a country decides it is in the ‘wrong’ equilibrium and wants to change to another. Samoa has decided just that and will early morning on 7th September switch driving from the right to the left hand side of the road. Why?

The main reason for Samoa’s switch is that two of its biggest neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, drive on the left-hand side, whereas Samoa currently drives on the right, as in the U.S. By aligning with Australia and New Zealand, the prime minister says, it will be easier for poor Samoans to get cheap hand-me-down cars from the 170,000 or so Samoans who live in those two countries. It could also help more people escape tsunamis, says Mr. Tuilaepa.

Tsunamis? OK, that is just a reflection of clear dissent on this issue and political handwaving. There’s more.

In a TV address about the road change last week, the prime minister warned that “the only thing to fear is fear itself.”

The reasons for change seem weak (e.g., the ability to buy Australian cars!). Sweden switched in 1967 but at least you could drive somewhere.

Oh yes, and if you think that there wasn’t enough cost, 7th September is a Monday. It is hard to imagine a worse day of the week to switch things. That said, the Government did realise that and declared the Monday and Tuesday a holiday. It also has set up a training area now so Samoans can practice driving on the left. Of course, that has only illustrated the issue they face.

One recent Sunday morning, a bus was seen barreling down the right side of the road in the training area, the driver apparently oblivious to the fact that it was the wrong side. After nearly running head-on into a sport-utility vehicle, the bus driver swerved then returned to the wrong side of the road and chugged on.

I think the 7th September is the day to watch for South Pacific YouTube activity.

One thought on “Switching to the correct side”

  1. What’s really interesting about this change is that you would expect that the change would lead to MORE road fatalities whilst the population gets used driving on the other side of the road.

    However, in the case of Sweden there was a significant DROP in fatalities when the change occured. After a couple of months business as usual resumed.

    The reasons why are debated – but a clear example that the behavioural change in some way caused by a recognition of increased danger.


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