The Secret Life of AAA: Environmental Foes

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

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

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.’
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