The Secret Life of AAA: Environmental Foes

| November 27, 2000

The Secret Life of AAA: Environmental Foes

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 roads.

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.'
--Amanda Luker
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