Keeping us on the road

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There is nothing more welcome when you are sat at the side of the road in a clapped out car than those very nice men from the Automobile Association.

Over the decades their vehicles and uniforms have changed almost as much as the price of petrol - but they still come to the rescue of Sheffield motorists when they are needed the most.

In 1977 we reported on the latest AA survey about spiralling car costs when drivers were paying 90p for a gallon of petrol, £50 road tax a year, £104 for parking per annum, and £116 in insurance. Ah, those were the days!

The AA celebrated its diamond jubilee in July 1965 as the largest organisation of its kind in the world with 3,500,000 members.

Yet its roots might not lie quite where you expect. Here is how the anniversary was marked in The Star: “A group of enthusiastic motorists, annoyed and irritated by the enforcement of speed limits by zealous police, decided the only solution to steadily-increasing fines was to hire cyclists to patrol the roads and warn drivers of speed traps. It was a move which met with immediate success - and the Automobile Association was born.

“It came into being on June 29, 1905, when those early motorists, flushed with success at their plot to foil the police, decided they would be even better off as a collective body.

“The group found itself in such dire trouble that the AA almost expired within three months of its birth.

“One September 3, 1905, a member was accused of speeding along the Fairmile stretch of the Portsmouth road. An AA patrol who had followed the care on his cycle was certain it had not exceeded 16 mph - 4 mph inside the then limit.

“The patrolman was put in the witness box - and the motorist lost his case. The patrolman was arrested and held in Brixton prison on perjury charges.

“The case was fought at Guildford Assizes in December and the patrolman found not guilty. The AA was faced with a bill for legal charges of £260 it could ill-afford to pay. From then onwards, the organisation gained in prestige, and it had a membership of 600 by early 1906.”

As with so much history, little changes. The issues that keep motorists muttering remain the same.