Ignoring Its Own Research, AAA Tells NYC Drivers Speeding Is No Big Deal

When a pedestrian is struck, the risk of severe injury (left) and death (right) rises dramatically as vehicle speed increases, with risks even higher for the elderly. But AAA ignores its own research and regularly opposes safer street designs and enforcement. Image: AAA

The American Automobile Association, often perceived as simply a non-profit that runs a friendly towing service, has lost what little credibility it had on street safety issues.

Ted Mann’s story in today’s Wall Street Journal about mayoral candidates addressing street safety has a few quotes from the local AAA chapter’s spokesperson:

Critics of some of those efforts, such as Robert Sinclair of the AAA, continue to be skeptical. The city is “plagued by bad engineering” that makes roads more dangerous, he said, and is at the mercy of trucks that supply the city’s stores. But he said bike lanes had been added “higgledy-piggledy” without regard to demand, and efforts to cut down on driver speed ignore reality.

“On some roadways in our area, the speed limit is artificially low,” he said. “Everyone’s not driving 30 miles an hour. If you did, the city might grind to a halt.”

Besides failing to employ basic logic — 30 mph, a speed limit that’s already higher than the rule in many other American cities, is by definition not grinding to a halt — Sinclair is doubling down on his organization’s pro-speeding position. “Everybody’s driving above 30. That’s the reality,” he told Streetsblog last year.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s own research [PDF] has run the numbers and reached a very different conclusion:

There is a general understanding that a pedestrian’s risk of injury or death increases as crash impact speed increases… To reduce the number of pedestrians seriously injured and killed in crashes with motor vehicles, it is necessary to reduce the risk of crashes occurring, the risk of severe or fatal outcomes in crashes, or both. In places such as residential streets and urban areas designed to allow pedestrians and vehicles to be in close proximity to one another, examples of measures to reduce vehicle speeds include traffic calming techniques such as speed bumps, lane narrowing, and changes in roadway curvature, as well as increased enforcement or reduction of speed limits.

Despite its foundation’s recommendations, AAA New York has long been an opponent of speed cameras, testifying against them at the City Council and regularly stumping against automated enforcement in the press. The group’s even used a flawed “ad-hoc survey” of eight cameras to attack the city’s red light enforcement program.

Behind the organization’s feel-good video reminding drivers that cyclists are people too, AAA regularly supports reckless policies that put all road users in danger. If arguing for unchecked speeding and unsafe road designs weren’t enough, AAA has also sought to remove cycling and pedestrian programs from funds generated by the gas tax. Any elected official standing with AAA should be laughed out of the room if they claim to support safe streets.