Winter 2001, p.2

Provocateur: Fear and Loathing of AAA

The AAA is taken out to the side of the rhetorical road and left stranded in an incisive new article by journalist Michael A. Rivlin (Amicus Journal, Winter 2001). AAA is the nation's motoring club, providing roadside assistance to stranded motorists. But AAA's other guise is that of political powerhouse, and a highly retrogressive one at that.

AAA, in Rivlin's estimation, has absolute zero environmental conscience. It has climbed into bed with an unholy alliance of automakers and concrete manufacturers, to counter any effort to limit highway expansion. The author accuses AAA of being the smiley-faced front for the Highway Users Alliance. While a more typical Highway Users Alliance member, the Portland Cement Association represents cement, which, tragically, has not yet been given the vote.

Using the weight of its 43 million members - most of which are blissfully unaware that they have joined an anti-environmental lobby - as a cudgel, AAA has tried to stop legislation to limit smog and soot (1997); require vapor traps in gas tanks (1989); and encourage tailpipes that spew less carbon dioxide and ozone (last year). When the 1990 Clean Air Act was before Congress, the group's government and public affairs office bleated that the bill would "threaten the personal mobility of millions of Americans". And this says nothing of its absolute opposition to transportation spending going to public transit or bikes.

Now, let us stipulate that AAA wants us to drive. A lot. No new gas taxes, more road construction, get off that bicycle. That is taken for granted, but vapor traps? Tailpipes? Why do they care? Well, we can guess. The Highway Users Alliance houses GM and Ford companies that will have to shell out the bucks to retool more ecologically sound vehicles, companies that are frank and open about opposing such mandates, companies that are going to demand something in return.

To illustrate Rivlin's article, Amicus Review dug up some campy old magazine ads from the old association. A rather Joan Crawfordesque mom rests one manicured hand on her broken-down DeSoto as a friendly, triple-A mechanic works under the hood. Sally, Billy, and little P.J. look wordlessly on, in awe. And now? AAA-affiliated advertising adapts a tinny post-feminist whine: "For me and most working mothers, driving is not an option-it's a necessity," huffs one pretend mom in a 1999 radio commercial for the Highway Users Alliance. "It's the only way I can work full-time, run errands, and still have time left for Michael's basketball games."

Of course, the final irony is that, by keeping Supermom and its other members sitting still in cars, the AAA is, at least indirectly, killing them. "Our world has just gotten a lot easier to live in," says Dr. Tom Schmid of the federal Centers for Disease Control. "We sit in cars, we don't walk to the store on the corner, we don't walk to the park." Reporter Lori Montgomery points her finger at the very social ills that the AAA falls all over itself to preserve: "Large-lot homes, congested roads, mega malls and acres of free parking." But in fact, the heart disease, diabetes and stroke associated with the sad over reliance on cars may have a hazardous effect on the auto club's own membership. 'Cause how mobile can you be, when you're dead?

Matt Corey is a freelance writer, editor and translator in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose car used to frequently strand him by the side of the road, until he got half a brain and changed its battery.

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