e-newsletter August-September 2010
  Welcome to the August-September edition of Hotspots  

We've got lots of useful advice for anyone who travels in a car with young children, including choosing and fitting car seats, how to prevent little ones from getting locked in the car, and even news about AA breakdown cover for children.

Find out why the AA came top in the latest Which? survey, why people still argue about map-reading, and how our online routes service has surpassed a major milestone.

We review a sporty new SEAT Leon, explain why younger drivers are hitting the skids, and hear what the AA President has to say about cycling.

There's also news of the Funkiest B&B of the Year, a drive around the beautiful Pembroke Coast National Park, plus some fab things to do in Devon and Cornwall.

I do hope you find Hotspots interesting and informative. Please get in touch if you have any feedback or suggestions.

[email protected]

Hotspots Editor

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AA tops Which? survey

The AA has romped into the top two slots in the latest Which? survey scoring the highest satisfaction scores of 84% for its provision of breakdown assistance to Honda and Jaguar customers. This is the first time that Which? has separated out carmaker cover in the survey and the AA scores highest in getting to customers quickly and the knowledge and politeness of its patrols.

  • Highest satisfaction scores of 84%
  • AA top for fixing cars at the roadside
  • AA wins 5 stars for patrol staff knowledge
  • AA wins 5 stars for patrols politeness
  • AA remains Best Buy recommendation

Read the full story »

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Child safety and car seats

Child safety and car seatsTwo thirds of child fatalities in the under-four age group occur in cars. Choosing the correct car safety seat for your child is vital. Thinking carefully about what you need before buying can make choosing a child seat less daunting.

We've got everything you need to know:

  • Choosing a child seat
  • Types of child seat
  • Types of booster
  • Front or back seat
  • Fitting child seats
  • Child restraint law
  • Stopping children releasing buckles

Read the full story »

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Child membership

AA Members can now enjoy some peace of mind when their children are travelling in other people's cars.

Make sure your child is covered on the road, even when they are travelling with grandparents or perhaps a childminder.

Add a child to your membership policy for only £6, and the AA will rescue them, the driver, and any other passengers, if the car breaks down. Call 08705 444 444 to find out more.

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Car keys and kids

Car keys and kidsEvery busy parent knows that loading the children in the car can be a complicated process. Getting them all belted in properly can often result in tantrums and trauma and the temptation to give them something to distract them is huge.

But the AA is advising parents not to fall into the trap of letting the children play with the car keys as this can easily result in them being locked in the car alone.

In 2006 the AA rescued over 1,500 children who had accidentally been locked in cars - the equivalent of 4 children a day.

AA advice - how to avoid lock-ins »

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Map out a joyful journey

Map out a joyful journeyStress levels on the road are set to rise this summer, thanks to arguments about map reading.

More than half of adults who make car journeys that require map reading claim to have had an argument with a fellow traveller over maps.

A recent online survey carried out for AA Atlases by YouGov, found 53% of people have argued over map reading, with 45 to 54 year olds being the most argumentative (60%).

Read the full story »

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Car review : SEAT Leon FR TDI DSG

Seat LeonSEAT has cultivated its image as the sporty brand within the Volkswagen group for several years now, and there are numerous performance versions of its entire range. SEAT has also used the full complement of technology at its disposal to introduce a diesel version of the FR, giving the potential for a car that is both exciting to drive and economical.

In all guises the Leon is a handsome and distinctive car, looking quite unlike its numerous competitors thanks to the bold curves and lines. Despite this it offers the levels of practicality expected of a five-door compact hatch, although the hidden rear door handles to help to make it look more stylish than most.

As well as the increased performance and unique exterior details, the FR also benefits from other performance enhancements. All FR models are fitted with sports suspension, and also higher specification brake pads for improved performance. As well as the usual suite of electronic systems such as ESP and brake force distribution, the Leon FR also gains the XDS traction system, which uses electronics to mimic the effects of a limited slip differential.

Few manufacturers offer so many sporting variants of a particular model, but it is the FR that strikes the perfect balance between everyday convenience and occasional thrills. In diesel form it is reassuringly economical, yet there is sufficient performance to exercise the impressive chassis. Handsome and well-equipped, only a little less practicality than some rivals is a demerit, but it is a small price to pay.

Our ratings

Overall rating 8
Value for money 9
Costs 8
Space and practicality 7
Controls and display 8
Comfort 7
Car security 8
Car safety 8

Read the full report »

Read more than 1,200 other car reviews online »

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Motoring tip of the month

It's not unusual for motorists to either lose their keys in sand or take their remote control keys for a swim and then find that car doors won't open. Salt in sea water can ruin electric circuits and render transponder keys useless.

Keep keys safe and dry but also make sure that you know the alternative method for getting into the car if the key fob fails. This is usually described in the handbook.

More seasonal motoring advice »

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Drivers shun protection

Drivers who would most benefit from anti-skid protection are most dismissive of its benefits, an AA survey has found.

Road signEven though Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is regarded as the biggest car safety innovation since the seat belt, with potential to save 250 lives a year in the UK and 4,000 across the EU, car showroom staff must take some of the blame for not selling the benefits of this essential safety device.

Take-up of the system in Britain is low, largely because only two out of five drivers know of its existence, says the AA.

An AA/Populus survey of 16,000 AA members in June shows that experience breeds wisdom as only 13-14% of over-55s see anti-skid protection as pointless. This compares with 27-28% of 18-34 year olds - arguably the group that would most benefit because of driving behavior, work pressure and the need to protect young families.

Read the full story »

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AA provides 1 billionth route

RouteIn the last decade AA Route Planner has helped motorists travel approximately 125 billion miles. This is the equivalent of driving around the world more than five and a half million times, or 700 round trips to the sun.

Before online routes were available the AA had provided routes by mail to its members for more than 70 years - initially handwritten and then printed versions. However, in 1999 with growing use of the internet, the AA moved its route service online.

Prior to its online launch, the AA mailed an average of 250,000 routes to members each year, but the AA online AA Route Planner now delivers over twice as many routes on an average day. Its popularity has seen requests increase by over 5,000 per cent since its launch and we now average 16 million route requests per month.

AA Route Planner is constantly adding enhanced features for motorists. An AA route provides easy-to-read directions, details of overall distance, expected journey duration, and points of interest, including service stations, car parks and speed camera locations.

The history of the routes service »

Plan a route in the UK, Ireland or Europe»

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More snow chaos?

Many cars end their journey in a ditch

Complacency on the part of some highway authorities, with inadequate systems and inept plans, led to road chaos last winter, according to the AA in response to the 'Winter Resilience Review'.

The report published in July highlights the fact that after the bad winter of 2008/2009 there was much talk but little action, such that the severe winter of 2009/2010 completely exposed the lack of lessons learned after the previous year's chaos.

The AA suggests that unless the recommendation for a strategic reserve is set up immediately, then there could be a repetition of the snow chaos seen last year if there is another severe winter.

The report shows England's overall ability to cope with a bad winter failed due to;

  • an inadequate salt distribution system
  • a scaling back of salt storage
  • reduced salting routes, and
  • little footway clearing

Read the full story »

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President's log

AA President Edmund King

The launch of bike superhighways in London creates hope for more harmony between motorists and cyclists on the road. Although the AA is primarily the voice of the motorist, cycling is also key to our origins and what we do today.

In 1907, the first AA cycle patrols or cycle scouts hit the roads. In just two years there were 1,000 cycle scouts, all in AA uniforms, fixing cars and warning of speed traps.

There are many keen cyclists at the AA today. I enjoy cycling and recently some 50 AA employees completed the charity London-to-Brighton cycle ride - some even rode there and back. So it's somewhat annoying when people question why I mention cycling on Twitter.

AA Publishing now produces a range of excellent cycle guides - some in conjunction with the cycling charity Sustrans. And we even have patrols on Smith and Wesson mountain bikes for festivals and events.

AA DriveTech offers cycle courses - on behalf of City of London police - for cyclists who jump the lights. And the first two cycle superhighways recently opened in the capital, making the city safer for cyclists and more attractive for investment.

It's part of a range of improvements being made to the roads for cyclists. Cycling accounts for 2% of journeys in the capital and Mayor Boris Johnson wants to improve this figure to 5% - "a huge leap". The recently launched Transport for London Barclays cycle hire scheme will help.

Eighteen per cent of AA members cycle to get from A to B at least once a month, according to an AA/Populus poll of 18,500 members. However, 64 per cent say they never use the bicycle as a form of transport and 19 per cent cycle only once or twice a year or less. Unsurprisingly cycling is most favoured in flat and relatively dry East Anglia where 24 per cent say they cycle at least once a month with the South and South-West next popular at 20 per cent.

Cycling is definitely a male thing, with 21 per cent of men cycling at least once a month against 12 per cent of women. In fact more than three times as many men cycle daily compared to women. Seventy six per cent of the over 65s say they never cycle.

So why not get a copy of one of our fantastic cycle guides and get on your bike?

Follow Edmund on Twitter »

Discuss cycling and cyclists in the AA Zone »

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Green parking 'tax'

Councils should not use 'environmental policies' to try to make more money out of motorists, the AA president warned at a conference of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership at Twickenham Stadium in July. The warning comes as Richmond Council in London has done a u-turn to scrap their parking scheme which forced owners of larger family cars to pay up to four times more than other motorists.

The AA opposed the policy from the outset to raise the cost of parking permits for vehicles producing higher CO2 emissions as it claimed it would hit families with MPVs and poorer families in terraced houses without driveways. Eight other councils are considering introducing similar schemes. The AA also pointed out that it was absurd to tax a vehicle more when it was stationary with its engine switched off.

Edmund King, AA president, speaking at the LowCVP conference said: "We need low cost, lower carbon transport solutions in an age of austerity but we don't need expensive 'green smokescreen' gimmicks such as parking charges based on CO2.

Read the full story »

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Funky town

Funky townThe Aramay, in St Agnes, Cornwall, has been named 'Funkiest B&B of the Year' by the AA.

The Aramay is an individual and original four star B&B on the north coast of Cornwall. It's a Highly Commended Guest Accommodation, offering five vibrant and individually styled rooms, each equipped with the best in comfort and quality.

Run by Amie Pinfield and Kye Blackett, their quirky and individual approach creates a unique guest experience that is fun, friendly and informal, while providing service that is professional efficient and informative.

Runners up were The Witchery by the Castle, in Edinburgh, and House of Agnes, in Canterbury, Kent.

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AA Best Drives BritainExclusive extract

Explore 137 miles of picturesque Pembrokeshire with this exclusive extract from AA Best Drives Britain.

The two-day route around Pembroke Coast National Park takes in much of the magnificent heritage coastline, as well as pretty villages and several fine castles.

AA Best Drives Britain features 30 circular tours, varying from 108 to 296 miles, all handpicked by the experts for their spectacular scenery. It's helpfully illustrated with colour route maps and detailed directions and even contains information on local events, sights, travel details and hotel recommendations

Download PDFClick here to open the extract
Adobe Acrobat is required to open this PDF file.

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Summer in the West Country

Summer in the West CountryWith the summer here, it's a great time to visit Cornwall and Devon. And there's more seaside too. The South West Coast Path runs for over 525 miles around the two counties from Lynmouth to Lyme Regis.

If you're planning a weekend break or a holiday this summer, the West Country has all you need for the perfect summer holiday without ever having to cross the channel.

With beautiful beaches perfect for a dip, a spot of surfing, or simply the chance to top up your tan, the West Country is perfect for a family summer holiday - plus there are many fun local attraction to visit too! We've selected some of the most searched-for local attractions from AA Travel - your own best of the West.

Read the full story »

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What's on this month

2–30 August Manchester Pride
21–22 August V Festival Weston Park
21–22 August V Festival Hylands Park
22 August UK Backward Running Championships
22–23 August Singapore Chilli Crab Festival
23–30 August Festival of the Tree
26–30 August Film4 Frightfest
27–29 August Reading Festival
27–29 August Leeds Festival
28–29 August Clapham Weekender
29 August World Bog Snorkelling Championships
29–30 August Notting Hill Carnival
4 September Liberty Festival
9–12 September Bestival
10–12 September Artsfest
11 September Cambridge Dragon Boat Festival
11–12 September The Mayor's Thames Festival
11–12 September Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival
11–12 September Battle of Britain Weekend
11–25 September St Ives September Festival
16–26 September Cambridge Film Festival
17–26 September York Festival of Food & Drink
18–19 September The Royal County of Berkshire Show
18–19 September Fiery Food UK
18–19 September Abergavenny Food Festival
19 September BUPA Great North Run
19 September UK Wheelchair Challenge
23–26 September London Fashion Weekend
24 September–3 October Bath Festival of Children's Literature
25 September The Great River Race
25–26 September Malvern Autumn Garden Country Show
25–26 September Great British Cheese Festival
29 September–10 October Raindance Film Festival
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London Fashion WeekendFestival of the TreeUK Backward Running Championships

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18 August 2010