The Automobile Association

This article is about the British Automobile Association. For other uses, see Automobile Association (disambiguation).
AA plc
The Automobile Association
Traded as LSE: AA.
Industry Automotive services
Founded 1905 (1905)
Headquarters Basingstoke, United Kingdom
Area served
United Kingdom
Key people
Bob Mackenzie
(Executive Chairman)
Revenue £983.5 million (2015)[1]
£325.9 million (2015)[1]
£69.1 million (2015)[1]
Number of employees

The Automobile Association (The AA) is a British motoring association founded in 1905, which currently provides car insurance, driving lessons, breakdown cover, loans, motoring advice, road maps and other services. The association demutualised in 1999 to become a private limited company and in 2002 the AA Motoring Trust was created to continue its public interest and road safety activities. The company is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.


Charitable association

AA phone box

The Automobile Association was founded in 1905 to help motorists avoid police speed traps,[2] in response to the Motor Car Act 1903 which introduced new penalties for breaking the speed limit, for reckless driving with fines, endorsements and the possibility of jail for speeding and other driving offences. The act also required drivers to hold a driving licence (which was obtained without a test on payment of 5 shillings) and to display a registration plate on their vehicle.

By 1906 the AA had erected thousands of roadside danger and warning signs, and managed road signage until responsibility was passed to local authorities in the early 1930s.[2] By 1926 the organisation had installed 6,500 direction signs and 15,000 village signs,[3] most of which were removed during the Second World War.[4]

In 1908 the organisation published its first AA Members' Special Handbook containing a list of nationwide agents and repairers.[2]

Automobile Association roadside assistance BMC Minivan

AA patrols on bicycles warned motorists of police speed traps ahead. In 1910 in a legal test case ('Betts -v- Stevens') involving an AA patrolman and a potentially speeding motorist, the Chief Justice, Lord Alverston, ruled that where a patrolman signals to a speeding driver to slow down and thereby avoid a speed-trap, then that person would have committed the offence of 'obstructing an officer in the course of his duty' under the Prevention of Crimes Amendment Act 1885.[5][6] Subsequently the organisation developed a coded warning system, used until the 1960s, whereby a patrolman would always salute the driver of a passing car which showed a visible AA Badge unless there was a speed trap nearby, on the understanding that their officers could not be prosecuted for failing to salute.[7] The AA Handbook included the following message many times: "It cannot be too strongly emphasised that when a patrol fails to salute, the member should stop and ask the reason why, as it is certain that the patrol has something of importance to communicate."[3]

In 1910 the organisation introduced AA Routes and in 1912 began inspecting hotels and restaurants, issuing AA Star Classification to those deemed to be of sufficient quality and introduced pre-purchase and post-accident repair checks in the 1920s.[2]

In 1920, members were issued with keys to roadside wooden telephone boxes which could be used to call the organisation for assistance (the boxes began to be erected in 1912 as shelters for watchmen or patrolmen). There were almost 1,000 boxes in their heyday, and they remained in use until the 1960s.[2]

A former AA BSA patrol bike from 1951

1949 saw the launch of a night-time breakdown and recovery service, initially in London only, then extended nationally. The AA Insurance brokerage service was started in 1967.[2]

After the war the AA led protests against petrol rationing, which was repealed in 1950.[2] The organisation campaigned for the compulsory wearing of seat belts, and for the introduction of unleaded petrol. Seat belt legislation became law in the UK in 1983 as required by the Transport Act 1981.[2] They have lobbied successive governments over what they describe as 'unfair motoring taxes'.[8]

In February 1972 the AA relocated from its central London offices to Basingstoke.[9] It began broadcasting AA Roadwatch traffic reports on UK commercial radio stations the following year. AA Relay was also introduced in 1973, a service that will deliver a broken-down vehicle, its driver and passengers, luggage and trailer to anywhere in Britain.[2]

For-profit company

The association demutualised in 1999 to become a private limited company, which was bought later the same year by Centrica (best known for its British Gas and Scottish Gas brands).[10]

In 2002, the AA Motoring Trust charity was created to continue its public interest and road safety activities.[11]

Centrica sold the AA in 2004 to two private equity firms, CVC and Permira, who in 2007 merged the AA with Saga under Acromas Holdings.[12]

In July 2013, the company launched AA Cars, linking buyers of used cars with sellers. The service is a partnership with Vcars, rebranding its partner's existing online service and providing a check of the car's history.[13][14] At the time of rebranding over 110,000 cars were available for purchase via 2,000 registered dealers.[13]

The AA became listed on the London Stock Exchange as AA plc in June 2014, through an initial public offering in which Acromas sold all its shares.[15][16]

In 2015, the AA acquired the garage booking service Motoriety.[17]

AA ratings and awards

Hotels, guest accommodation, and self catering accommodation

The AA awards ratings according to a system based on quality standards agreed by the AA and the various UK tourist authorities.[18] Properties are awards a star rating, from one to five stars. In addition, each hotel receives a "Merit % Score" to enable comparison of hotels with similar star ratings. Hotels that are deemed to stand out may also receive a red star "AA Inspectors' Choice" award. A similar award for guest accommodation is the "Gold Star Award" for properties deemed to stand out.

Campsites and caravan parks

The AA award a "Pennant rating" to campsites and caravan parks based on a five-point scale. A percentage score is also awarded to enable comparison of parks with the same "Pennant rating".


AA inspectors award AA rosettes based on a zero to five system. The standards are quite high and only about one in ten restaurants are deemed worthy of even one rosette.[18]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Annual Report 2015" (PDF). The Automobile Association. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "About us". The AA. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  3. 1 2 The Automobile Association Handbook 1926. The Automobile Association. 1926.
  4. "Village name marker a relic from Devon's motoring past". Exeter Express & Echo. 1 October 2009.
  5. JA Coutts, 'Obstructing the Police' (1956) 19 MLR 411
  6. "Road Traffic - 1900- 1929". Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  7. Massey, Ray (4 February 2010). "Drivers face breakdown nightmare after AA staff ballot for first strike in 105 years". The Daily Mail.
  8. "History". we have lobbied successive governments over unfair motoring taxes.
  9. "Motorweek: The AA are to withdraw from London". Motor: 47. 12 February 1972.
  10. "Power firm buys AA". BBC News: Business. 5 July 1999. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  11. "Select Committee on European Union: Memorandum by The AA Motoring Trust". April 2004. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  12. Wachman, Richard (1 July 2007). "A sorry Saga at the AA?". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  13. 1 2 "The AA launches into used car classifieds through Vcars partnership". AM Online. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  14. Jones, Rupert (9 July 2013). "AA to start selling used cars". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  15. Macalister, Terry (6 June 2014). "AA owner accelerates IPO plan with major sell-off". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  16. David, Ruth (23 June 2014). "AA Drops in First Day of Trading After $2.4 Billion IPO". Bloomberg. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  17. lyster, Gordon. "The AA enter online service booking market - Motor Trade News". Retrieved 2016-07-04.
  18. 1 2 Guide to AA ratings and awards
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