A Century of Service
Almost immediately after the first horseless carriages appeared on America’s roads, motorists began organizing automobile clubs.
In 1902, only 23,000 cars were in operation in this country compared with 17 million horses. Yet, 50 small motor clubs had been formed by motoring enthusiasts across the country. Nine of those clubs joined together to create a national motoring organization and on March 4, 1902, in Chicago, founded the American Automobile Association.
More than 100 years have passed, but from its inception, AAA has dedicated itself to the future of transportation through support of safe, efficient highways and a multi-modal transportation system that is accessible and affordable to everyone.
Fight for Better Roads
At the turn of the century, existing roads had been designed for the horse and buggy — not the automobile. Traveling on those dirt paths was often risky, and AAA’s earliest goal was to lead a fight for improvements in the nation’s roads — ones which could better accommodate automobile traffic.
By 1916, AAA had won a major battle in its campaign for better roads when the principle of federal aid to highways was initiated.
The activities of AAA’s affiliated clubs have covered a wide range of issues and interests during the last 109 years. AAA’s nationwide campaign, “Crisis Ahead: America’s Aging Highways and Airways,” focused attention on the nation’s deteriorating highways and airways and seeks ways to correct this growing problem. It calls for increased spending of existing funds in the highway and aviation trust funds for badly needed improvements on the nation’s highways, bridges and air traffic control system. AAA’s Making America Stronger was designed to provide consumers with information and insight into current transportation issues.
Over the years, the AAA federation of 50 clubs has fought hard for the legal rights of motorists and travelers and has sought to make car ownership and travel a more pleasurable experience through increased services to members.
Auto breakdowns have always been a source of frustration to car owners. In 1915, AAA was the first to introduce a service for stranded motorists and it is now one of the most valued features of a AAA membership. Calls for roadside assistance average 29 million annually, and is coordinated through a network of nearly 13,000 contract facilities.
American and Canadian members can receive road service by calling 1-800-AAA-HELP (1-800-222-4357), going online to AAA.com/Help, or using the AAA Roadside or CAA Roadside app for Android or iPhone. At AAA, call counselors handle roadside assistance calls, as well as respond to inquiries about travel-related subjects and AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities. AAA annually publishes a manual on correct towing procedures and updates vehicle buying research online at AAA.com.
To ensure members receive reliable and quality workmanship in auto repairs, AAA developed its Approved Auto Repair program, which has identified 8,000 automotive repair facilities that meet AAA’s stringent criteria in customer satisfaction, equipment requirements and competency in performing automotive repairs.
Just five years after its founding, AAA established a bureau of touring information to supply members with all available data on roads, hotels, service facilities and motor vehicle laws.
Because early maps were prepared principally for bicyclists, AAA soon began producing its own auto-oriented maps and road logs and, eventually, a series of TourBook® guides and camping directories.
AAA clubs also began inspection and recommendation of lodgings and restaurants. They became linked in a teletype network through which up-to-the-minute information on highway conditions could be exchanged.
To keep pace with the phenomenal growth in travel abroad, a foreign travel department was established in 1927 to handle steamship tickets and shipment of members’ cars overseas.
Gradually AAA initiated additional services and is now one of the largest travel organizations in the world, offering complete domestic and foreign travel services, including issuing International Driving Permits.
The rapidly increasing number of cars on the road brought about a similar increase in motor vehicle crashes. Prevention of traffic crashes became an early concern of AAA clubs.
In 1920, the AAA-sponsored School Safety Patrol program — children protecting classmates from traffic dangers — was established and expanded nationwide. AAA also introduced traffic safety education into elementary and junior high schools, and pioneered driver education in high schools. AAA’s Responsible Driving textbook, first published in the 1930s as Sportsmanlike Driving, has become the most widely used book in its field.
AAA has been actively involved for more than 40 years in reducing the drunken-driver problem. AAA’s alcohol education programs are used by thousands of communities to address the traffic safety issues associated with alcohol abuse. AAA has programs appropriate for people of all ages from elementary school students through senior adults.
During the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, AAA initiated weekly Fuel Gauge Reports — a canvassing of stations across the nation to advise motorists on gasoline availability, prices and hours of operation. AAA currently offers nationwide daily gas prices through the AAA Fuel Gauge Report which also offers expert commentary on the factors affecting prices at the pump. In addition, the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator uses AAA’s unequalled gas price research to assist travelers in estimating the cost of gas for a trip, or comparing costs for different vehicles. AAA’s fuel information is also available for smart phones at AAA.com/mobile.
AAA has played a leading role in the fight to reject any increase in the federal excise tax on gasoline to offset the federal budget deficit.