On this day in history : 29th June 1905 – A group of disgruntled motorists set up The Automobile Association to warn drivers of speed traps after continuing police harassment….
In 1903 a speed limit of 20mph had been brought in – and the police set about enforcing this with much vigour….it could be argued to the point of persecution…. Three officers, two of whom were in plain clothes, would position themselves a furlong apart along a section of road…. They would usually hide in bushes but were in sight of one another…. The first officer would use a white handkerchief to signal an approaching car; the second would use a stopwatch to time the motorist over a furlong…. The third uniformed officer would then halt the motorist if an offence had been committed….which was just 2mph over the speed limited…. Fines were harsh, usually £5, which was an average month’s wage at the time – the alternative was four weeks in prison…. The teams of police officers earned the name ‘Hedge-hogs’ among early drivers….
London motor dealer Charles Jarrett decided enough was enough…. He began to organise patrols of cyclists, who were good at judging speed…. They would carry a red flag and patrolling the London to Brighton road would warn speeding motorists of police traps that lay ahead….
In June 1905 Jarrett, along with fellow motorists Walter Gibbons, Ludwig Schlentheim and Alfred Harris formed ‘The Motorists’ Mutual Asscociation’ – to patrol the main roads near to London…. Scouts would seek out traps and flag down any motorists seen to be doing more than 20mph…. A motorcyclist and three pedal cyclists were engaged to cover the Brighton road as far as Crawley – and another group patrolled from Crawley to Purley….
Many of these first scouts were Fleet Street news boys, using their own bicycles…. As at first the patrols only operated at the weekends the young men, all being physically fit due to their jobs of delivering newspapers, viewed the venture as a bit of weekend fun….
A month later the Association changed its name to The Automobile Association….and it continued to grow…. By 1906 the AA had erected thousands of roadside signs warning of possible hazards….and by 1926 it had installed some 6,500 direction signs and 15,000 village name signs…. It did this until the early 1930s, when local authorities took over the responsibility….
The first AA handbook listing all nationwide agents and places to get vehicles repaired was issued in 1908….