AA Breakdown Cover – In the beginning
29th June 1905. A group of car enthusiasts met in a
restaurant called Trocadero which was located in the West End of
London. The meeting created the Automobile Association (or AA
for short), boasting a meager 100 members. The original intent
for the group was to provide support and guidance to car drivers
throughout the UK. Bigger, faster, and nosier cars were rapidly
appearing on the UK roads which would often upset other drivers.
The motoring act 1903 introduced speeding fines to UK car
drivers for the first time. When caught speeding motorists would
receive (as well as a fine) an endorsement which would appear on
their driving license. One of the first priorities for the AA
was to help motorists to avoid police speed traps and the
subsequent sine and endorsement that would follow.
In 1906 the AA
members created thousands of road signs, warning motorists of
any dangers that existed. These were the UK’s first roadside
signs. The AA took responsibility for producing and erecting
roadside signs un the UK until the 1930’s when legislation made
local council authorities responsible for roadside signs in
their area. The AA continued erecting their own roadside signs
which can still be seen today and are easily recognisable as
they are yellow and often direct car drivers to major events and
In 1907 AA
members on bicycles became their first ever car breakdown
patrols – it would have been too expensive for them to use cars
so they had to make do with bikes. They were aptly named
“cycle scouts”, patrolling town and city streets, and
would often warn motorists about approaching speed traps. They
would assist drivers who’s car had broken down by completing
minor roadside repairs or cycling for further assistance if they
could not repair the car themselves. Within two years there were
over 1,000 ‘cycle scouts’ on the UK streets, all wearing a
standard AA uniform.
1908 saw the first publication of the AA Members Handbook.
Traveling by car was becoming increasingly popular (although
nothing compared to today’s standards). The AA appoint
‘recommended’ local vehicle repairers throughout the UK, and
publish their details within the handbook.
In 1909 the AA
launched it’s free legal assistance which would offer legal
support to car drivers who were being prosecuted for incidents
that had occurred while they were behind the wheel of their car.
In 1910 an AA patrolman was prosecuted for obstruction a
policeman after he flagged down an approaching motorist and
warned him of a police speed trap further down the road. The
historic ‘Betts v Stevens’ case was quite famous and the police
hoped the outcome would deter the AA from warning drivers about
speed traps, but it didn’t. Instead the AA
introduced a signaling system where by AA patrols would wave at
any approaching vehicle which displayed the prominent yellow AA
badge. If there was a speed trap ahead the AA patrol man would
not acknowledge the driver, which would act as notification of
the impending speed trap. Because the AA were technically not
warning the driver of the speed trap, they could then not be
prosecuted for it. This system continued until the late 60’s.
1910 also saw the AA
produce it’s first car road map. It was initially handwritten,
with routes and points of interest often added. By the late
1920’s there were over 7,000 maps in circulation including maps
of European countries.
In 1912 the AA started to inspect hotels and restaurants, and
giving them a start rating based on the quality. These were
later added the AA Members Handbook.
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