skip to content

Ethics in the Fast Lane: Avoid AAA

Ethics in the Fast Lane: Avoid AAA

September 5, 2007 —

AAA (American Automobile Association) has been with us motorists since the early 1900s, and basically they’re good people to rely on for roadside help, travel info and a number of other auto travelers packages, including insurance. I always assumed AAA was a sort of chivalrous representative for we who drive and who also have a vested interest in auto safety and even the automobiles’ impact on our air quality. Alas, this is not true.

Whose Side Is AAA On?

AAA (American Automobile Association) has been with us motorists since the early 1900s, and basically they’re good people to rely on for roadside help, travel info and a number of other auto travelers packages, including insurance. I always assumed AAA was a sort of chivalrous representative for we who drive and who also have a vested interest in auto safety and even the automobiles’ impact on our air quality. Alas, this is not true.

Opposing Air Bags and Cleaner Air—Ethics in the Fast Lane

It turns out that the AAA really is the automobile association and not the automobile driver association, which is a big difference. For roadside service AAA is right there. For representing drivers’ interest in Washington D.C. AAA is a corporate Benedict Arnold. They appear to represent the big auto makers in Detroit. Here’s a track record. In the 1970’s the AAA was fighting the federal acts mandating that cars and trucks be outfitted with air bags. In the 1990’s AAA went the side of the Detroit auto giants in trying to stifle the stiffening of the Clean Air Act. Recently, they’ve been opposing better fuel efficiency standards set by the federal government.

National Public Radio recently accused the AAA of being misleading in stating that the use of cell phones while driving did not cause as many accidents as other driver activities (eating, for instance).

None of these lobbying positions help the drivers of AAA—though the AAA is always trying to keep the price of new cars down and they see that as a valuable service to drivers. In effect, AAA’s lobbying benefits the automakers.

So, if its time for you to renew your annual AAA (it is for me) then it would be very worthwhile to take a look at the alternatives.

Better than AAA: Better World Travel

The best alternative to AAA is Better World Travel, founded in the early 2000’s, and offering many of the same traveler/roadside services as AAA, but with a philosophy and activism that is clearly supportive of drivers and the environment. The BWT website states that it “is dedicated to balancing economic goals with social and environmental responsibilities.” BWT supports alternative modes of transportation—even offering a roadside bicycle service. Environmental observers say the BWT does not lobby against environment protection measures and goes so far as to give 1 percent of annual revenues to environmental groups in consonance with their (and our, as drivers) interests.

The AAA has not just pulled over in the slow lane to let BTW gain on it. AAA accused BTW of unfair criticism on its efforts to keep the Clean Air Act more milk toasty. AAA says it did so to prevent the costs of new cars going up. AAA also defends itself by saying it is advocating more roads to keep traffic moving faster, thus lowering pollutants. This is countered by Barbara McCann, director of information and research for Smart Growth America, saying: "Everyone loves the AAA, because it gets them out of jams. What isn't as well known is that AAA represents a very narrow viewpoint.”

While AAA will remain the roadside aid colossus in terms of market share, the idea of an ethical travel club is gaining acclaim and many drivers are switching their annual coverage to BTW. Better World states: “We get asked if people should really be traveling…We're trying to help them travel as lightly on the Earth as they possibly can.”

 

Comment on this article:

Buy It

Don't Buy It

  • Racial profiling and discrimination
  • Numerous ethical problems with largest maker of household products in U.S.
  • Processed meat sold as 'natural' food. Union-buster.
  • Altria? Formerly known as Philip Morris
  • Genetic Engineering and Monopolistic behavior = Monsanto