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AAA: Over a Century of Pioneering Road Safety and Motorist Advocacy

A stamp issued for the 50th anniversary of the American Automobile Association
The stamp issued on the 4th of March 1952 in Chicago Illinois commemorated the 50th anniversary of the American Automobile Association

March 4, 2024, marks a significant milestone in the history of the American Automobile Association (AAA), celebrating 122 years since its foundation on this day in 1902. Lets take a trip through some automotive history: AAA’s journey from a small coalition of motoring clubs to becoming the foremost advocate for drivers across the United States.

At its inception, the AAA was formed in response to the dire state of roads and the absence of suitable highways for the growing number of automobiles. The founders, representing nine motor clubs with a collective membership of 1,500, were visionaries who foresaw the need for a unified voice to champion the cause of motorists and road improvements. Their early advocacy for better roads and the creation of a cross-country highway paved the way (pun intended) for the expansive network of roads and highways we take for granted today.

One of the AAA’s landmark contributions to road safety was the introduction of road maps in 1905, followed by hotel guides in 1917, signaling the start of a century-long commitment to ensuring safer and more enjoyable travels for motorists. The AAA’s dedication to safety extended beyond the road with the launch of the School Safety Patrol Program in 1920, a pioneering initiative that underscores the organization’s holistic approach to traffic safety, emphasizing not just the safety of motorists but of pedestrians, especially schoolchildren.

The AAA’s influence stretched to the racetracks, where it established the Racing Board in 1902, overseeing prestigious races like the Indianapolis 500. However, the AAA’s racing chapter concluded in 1955, as the organization refocused entirely on its core mission of road safety and motorist advocacy, underlining its adaptability and commitment to its foundational goals.

For driver education, the AAA has been instrumental, publishing the first course outline for high school teachers in 1935 and continuously updating its driver training programs to adapt to the evolving challenges of road safety. Recognizing the dangers posed by vehicles to pedestrians, the AAA initiated a pedestrian safety program in 1936, which has evolved into a comprehensive effort to reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries.

The organization’s role during times of national crisis, particularly during World War II, highlighted the AAA’s capability to extend its resources and expertise beyond peacetime activities, contributing significantly to the war effort through conservation initiatives and support for the military.

In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st, the AAA has continued its mission, advocating for safer driving practices, supporting legislation aimed at improving road safety, and assisting in the development of technologies and infrastructures that promise a safer future for all road users. Its foray into telematics with the Smart Car experiment in 1990 and ongoing efforts to educate teens and their parents on safe driving practices are just a few examples of how the AAA continues to lead in addressing contemporary challenges in automotive safety and mobility.

As we reflect on the AAA’s storied past this March 4th, it’s clear that the organization’s journey is far from over. With a steadfast dedication to advocating for the interests of motorists and a proactive approach to road safety, the American Automobile Association remains at the forefront of the drive towards a safer, more efficient, and enjoyable future for all road users. The AAA’s century-plus legacy serves as a reminder for things we take for granted now, guiding the way toward continued innovation and advocacy in the automotive landscape.


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