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 tourist attractions.
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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