Like an AA member owning up to his addiction, Michael A. Rivlin
confesses: 'I'm a member of AAA. I've belonged for years.' So, why
should he feel sheepish? Besides the maps, the insurance, and the
late-night tows, your friendly all-American auto club, a model of
consumer advocacy, has a political agenda. And it's no good for the
environment. The American Automobile Association consistently
opposes laws that would lead to cleaner air and a healthier
environment, reports Rivlin inAmicus Journal.
Consumer advocates too report similar misgivings about AAA's safety
record: 'AAA says it promotes road construction and repair for the
sake of its members' safety -- but when it comes to car safety, the
story is different,' says Rivlin. The group lobbied against plans
to mandate air bags in new cars. And many transportation
authorities now even dispute AAA's claim that wider roads are safer
AAA was founded in 1902, with road signs as its main business. As its franchise grew, AAA began advocating for the construction of more and better roads, lobbying for the interstate highway system. But when Americans began paying attention to environmental problems, AAA started lobbying to keep money raised from gas taxes and tolls from being used for public transit and land conservation interests.
The AAA lobbying staff is small, with only twelve people in the Washington DC office. But, AAA wields most power merely by its reputation: 'What AAA does very effectively is lend its name, its middle-American respectability, and the moral weight of those 43 million members to its transportation causes,' writes Rivlin.
Undoubtedly, there is frustration among those who feel cheated by the true nature of AAA: 'We joined because my wife and I wanted to have an insurance policy for roadside travel protection,' recalls one member. 'I don't believe most people join AAA to become part of a political movement opposing clean air.'