The Secret Life of AAA

Like a lot of folks, I belong to AAA and yes, they’ve bailed me out on more than one occasion. I’ve always considered them to be one of the cheerful good guys – a sort of throwback to old days of service stations with service. Little did you or I know, AAA is also a political group that’s been lobbying against every environmental or auto safety legislation for years.

On the subject of highway congestion, AAA can be found on the opposite side of the fence from both environmentalists and urban planners. In recent years, land-use planners have asserted that new roads actually worsen congestion because they open up more land to real estate development, which in turn puts still more cars on the roads. But AAA’s position has not substantially changed from the late 1980s. It argues that bottlenecks are a major cause of automobile pollution — so more roads must be built to eliminate them. Its 1988 “six-point strategy” for relieving congestion relied principally on new highways and outer loops around metropolitan areas. Twelve years and many miles of new road later, with congestion so bad that “road rage” is now part of the national vocabulary, AAA’s byword is still “increased roadway capacity.” Comments Paul Billings of the American Lung Association, “Building more roads to solve an air pollution problem is like buying a larger pair of pants to solve an obesity problem.”

Critics see an essential hypocrisy at AAA’s heart, for it poses as a consumer advocate yet opposes laws that would lead to cleaner air and a healthier environment for those same consumers. They also cite its history on safety. AAA says it promotes road construction and repair for the sake of its members’ safety — but when it comes to car safety, the story is different.

One of the most notorious examples was the airbag law. AAA came out against mandatory installation of airbags in cars. It released a nationwide survey showing that 67 percent of those questioned preferred laws mandating seat belt use, and started lobbying for those laws in state legislatures, weakening the airbag campaign.

In place of AAA, the Better World Travellers Club seems like a good alternative. Plus it appears to be less expensive too.

Cross-country road tripping in 1937

In 1937, Paul Nagai’s grandmother drove cross-country and kept a detailed photo-journal of the trip. Today, the amazing journal is up on the web.

This reminds me about one long-term project I need to pick back up – a journal that my grandfather put together about his 1921 cross-country drive from California to New York.

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Volkswagen’s hyperfuturistic concept car

vwliterIt gets 100km/l and looks like a dead-ringer for Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion car.

The automated gearbox is coupled to a start-stop system, which includes a freewheel function. In overrun mode, the vehicle switches the engine off. The vehicle then rolls without the engine running. Development engineers call this gliding – alluding to the silent flight of a glider. The engine starts up again immediately when the magnesium accelerator pedal is depressed. A specially developed starter-alternator makes sure the engine is immediately restarted. Positioned between the engine and gearbox and using a dual clutch system, this works as both current generator and flywheel. In gliding mode, both clutches are open. When the driver presses the accelerator pedal again, the clutch between the engine and the starter-alternator is closed, causing the still turning flywheel to restart the engine without consuming any electrical current. Apart from this, the crankshaft starter-alternator, which eliminates the need for a conventional alternator and starter motor, has a so-called boost function which is able to supply additional power to supplement the power of the engine. But that is not all the starter-alternator does. While braking, the negative acceleration energy is fed into the alternator and recovered (recuperation).