Thursday 29th June 1905
A group of motoring enthusiasts met at the Trocadero restaurant in London’s West End to form the Automobile Association (the AA) – a body initially intended to help motorists avoid police speed traps, in response to the Motor Car Act 1903 which introduced new penalties for breaking the speed limit, for reckless driving with fines, endorsements and the possibility of jail for speeding and other driving offences. The act also required drivers to hold a driving licence (which was obtained on payment of 5 shillings and did not require a driving test) and to display a registration plate on their vehicle. By 1906 the AA had erected thousands of roadside danger and warning signs and managed road signage until responsibility was passed to local authorities in the early 1930s. By 1926 the organisation had installed 6,500 direction signs and 15,000 village signs, most of which were removed during the Second World War. In 1908 the organisation published its first AA Members’ Special Handbook containing a list of nationwide agents and mechanics with a free legal service the following year.AA patrols on bicycles warned motorists of police speed traps ahead. In 1910 in a legal test case (‘Betts -v- Stevens’) involving an AA patrolman and a potentially speeding motorist, the Chief Justice, Lord Alverston, ruled that where a patrolman signals to a speeding driver to slow down and thereby avoid a speed-trap, then that person would have committed the offence of ‘obstructing an officer in the course of his duty’ under the Prevention of Crimes Amendment Act 1885.Subsequently the organisation developed a coded warning system, which was used until the 1960s, whereby a patrolman would always salute the driver of a passing car which showed a visible AA Badge unless there was a speed trap nearby, on the understanding that their officers could not be prosecuted for failing to salute. The AA Handbook included the following message many times: “It cannot be too strongly emphasised that when a patrol fails to salute, the member should stop and ask the reason why, as it is certain that the patrol has something of importance to communicate.” In 1910 the organisation introduced AA Routes and in 1912 began inspecting hotels and restaurants, issuing AA Star Classification to those deemed to be of sufficient quality and introduced pre-purchase and post-accident repair checks in the 1920s. 1949 saw the launch of a night-time breakdown and recovery service initially in London only before extending nationally.The AA Insurance brokerage service, started in 1967, is currently the UK’s largest motor insurance company. After the war the AA ‘led the protest’ against petrol rationing which was repealed in 1950.The organisation campaigned for the compulsory wearing of seat belts, and for the introduction of unleaded petrol. Seat belt legislation became law in the UK in 1983 as required by the Transport Act 1981. They have lobbied successive governments over what they describe as ‘unfair motoring taxes’. In February 1972 the AA relocated from its central London offices to Basingstoke. It began broadcasting AA Roadwatch traffic reports on UK commercial radio stations the following year. AA Relay was also introduced in 1973, a service that will deliver a broken-down vehicle, its driver and passengers, luggage and trailer to anywhere in Britain. In 2007 the AA merged with Saga to form Acromas Holdings.In July 2013, the company launched AA Cars in partnership with Vcars, rebranding its partners existing online service. At the time of rebranding over 110,000 cars were available for purchase via 2,000 registered dealers. One of the main reasons behind the launch of the new brand was due to statistics published in an AA/Populus study, which suggested that one in three UK driver’s felt buying a car was a stressful experience.Unlike other websites within automotive classifieds industry, AA Cars provides a 26-point spot check on every vehicle. Each 26-point spot check could show whether the car had outstanding finance, was registered stolen or had been written off by an insurer. The AA became listed on the London Stock Exchange in June 2014 through an initial public offering.