Welcome to the first anniversary edition of Hotspots


As the UK recovers from the sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow of December and January, find out how the AA pulled out all the stops to rescue more than a third of a million motorists in three weeks around Christmas.

We bring you news of a pothole problem caused by the snow, the latest on winter tyres, a police initiative to halt insurance scams, and a new fuel price application for the iPhone.

There's also a chance to win a break in France, check out our pick of the best ski resorts, an award-winning hotel, the best places to see snowdrops in February, and an exclusive extract from the 'AA KeyGuide Britain'.

As ever, I do hope you find 'Hotspots' interesting and informative. Please get in touch if you have any feedback or suggestions. Email me at [email protected]

Hotspots Editor

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  AA van in snow

Record-breaking breakdowns
AA pulls out the stops to rescue a third of a million drivers

During the past month the AA has experienced its busiest day ever, its busiest night for 25 years, and its busiest Christmas day for 20 years.

To cope with the increased demand, the AA has deployed extra patrols, borrowed extra Land Rovers, helped rescue injured elderly pedestrians and used Land Rovers to help hospital staff obtain vital supplies and visit sick patients.

Another AA van in snow

Staff in our call centres and on the road have really gone the extra mile, working extra hours and even cancelling leave over the festive period to help rescue stranded motorists.

Read the full story »

Read the day-by-day break down of events »

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Winter tyres

Wintry scene

In many parts of mainland Europe, where winter weather conditions are generally more severe and predictable than in the UK, it's common practice or even a legal requirement for drivers to keep two sets of wheels and tyres - a set of 'summer' tyres and a set of specialist 'winter' tyres.

Following a very cold and snowy start to winter, motorists have been asking whether winter tyres should be compulsory here in the UK. But there are several practical and economic reasons why they're not.

Read the full story »

Join in the debate about winter tyres in the AA Zone »

AA tyre advice »

Winter tyres and snow chains – driving to Europe »

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AA fuel prices for iPhone

The AA is coming to the aid of cash-strapped motorists with a new fuel price application for the iPhone, following the success of the AA Theory Test app.

It works by first identifying your location. AA Fuel Prices UK then checks the 10 closest fuel stations and ranks the cheapest five. The results are then colour coded – with green the cheapest, and red the most expensive.

Average UK petrol prices rose above £5 a gallon in January for the first time in 15 months, so this app could come in very handy in 2010.

Read the full story »

AA London for iPhone »

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Car review
Ford Focus Econetic Stop-Start

Ford Focus Econetic The latest generation of Ford Focus Econetic may look familiar on the surface but it boasts some brand new revisions under the skin. Using the newly developed technology it is able to offer the highest fuel economy and lowest CO2 emissions of any Focus to date.

The most obvious and perhaps the most influential technical development is the addition of a stop-start system. It cuts the engine out when the car comes to a stop in neutral and re-engages swiftly when the throttle or clutch is depressed.

Clever electrics allow for kinetic energy recovery, too. Under braking, the Focus Econetic's momentum recharges the battery, reducing the need for the alternator to sap engine strength.

The Focus Econetic builds on an already impressive platform with technical innovation to great success. The stop-start system makes a big difference, but combines with other small improvements to make an even greater one. The impressive fuel economy and tax-free status are not to be scoffed at in a C-segment car, particularly given the retained refinement. Clearly, the fuel savings must be offset against the purchase price, but for high mileage drivers the Focus Econetic could prove a smart purchase.

Our ratings

Overall rating 8
Value for money 6
Costs 9
Space and practicality 7
Controls and display 8
Comfort 7
Car security 6
Car safety 8

Read the full review »

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Motoring tip of the month

Wet windscreen

Lights, heaters and windscreen wipers put high demands on the car battery. If the car is driven mainly in dark rush-hour trips, the battery will give out eventually. Avoid running car electrics any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.

More advice on winter motoring »

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Snow leads to pothole problem

Drivers face a new road menace following the snow, in the shape of potholes. And the AA is calling for emergency road maintenance funding to stop crumbling roads costing more in compensation and accidents.

Potholes are inevitable after severe weather. Over time, cracks appear in the road surface, and when water seeps in, it freezes and expands, widening the crack. So the snow and ice we've had in the UK since December has wreaked havoc on the roads.

The AA believes that there's a strong case for emergency maintenance funding for councils, to head off the threat of the vicious circle of compensation claims and hospital costs outweighing the cost of repair to the roads.

Read the full story »

Have your say about potholes in the AA Zone »

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President's log

AA President Edmund King

The severe winter weather means we have been dealing with record numbers of breakdown call-outs. In the first three weeks of the cold spell we attended more than one third of a million breakdowns. And we recorded our busiest day ever, with more than 25,000 breakdowns in a single day.

However, it wasn't just the patrols that were busy. AA contact centres dealt with record numbers of calls, and we also had to use Land Rovers to ferry our staff to work. We were also flat out in terms of media coverage.

Between 15 and 28 December our small team conducted 368 radio and television interviews. Many of these interviews covered our early warnings over salt shortages, tips for driving on ice and snow, and information about weather and road closures.

Even on my couple of days' break at Christmas I was rushed into the BBC studios in Bristol to give national and local radio and television interviews. I even ended up on BBC Breakfast on Christmas Day, which is a first for me. And the onslaught didn't stop in the New Year.

Early morning radio is not a problem for me as I have a studio at home, so I can argue about lack of gritting on the 'Today' programme in my pyjamas. I do though have to keep the children quiet as Eloise once featured live on BBC Radio Wales saying "milk, milk". However, television is a different matter in the morning as you need to be up looking alert.

One day I was up at 5.30am to venture out of my house and across the icy road to do a couple of live pieces to GMTV's Penny Smith, from a satellite truck. The next day I had to be at BBC Breakfast on the couch with Bill and Sian at 6.40am. And the night before that I was live on Sky.

At one stage it seemed that the AA had taken over BBC Five Live, as every news summary led with AA breakdown figures. In January on 'Five Live Drive' the presenter, Anita, said "We are joined by the president of the AA again. This is becoming a regular occurrence."

The frequent radio interviews did take me back to the time I worked on 'KRTH-101 Classic Rock and Roll Radio' in Los Angeles – apart from the fact it was a lot warmer then. Here's to some warmer weather here soon.

Edmund King
AA President

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Whiplash imageBid to halt 'cash for crash' scams

The AA is campaigning for a Metropolitan Police initiative to be copied by police in other areas, in an effort to crack down on staged car accidents.

The Met has set up a specialist unit to train officers to watch out for signs of suspicious collisions designed to defraud insurance companies for bogus personal injury claims.

Staged accidents are usually at relatively low speeds at complex junctions such as roundabouts or intersections, and often the tail lights of the vehicle have been disabled to increase the likelihood of a rear-end collision. The best way to avoid being involved in a 'cash for crash' scam is to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front.

Read the full story »

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  French lunch

Win a French gourmet break

The AA has launched a free online insurance renewal reminder service – sign up today and you could win a gourmet break in France, courtesy of AA Getaways.

Simply fill in your details and the AA will send you a handy reminder nearer the time, and enter you into the prize draw.

Enter the draw »

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Snowboarding, Skiing and Schnapps

Heavy snow may have brought much of the UK to a standstill at the start of the year but it's great news for the mountains of Scotland, where skiiers and snowboarders are enjoying the best start to the ski season for a decade.

Conditions are excellent at the five Scottish ski resorts so there's never been a better time to try the sport. There's no need to jet to Canada – skiing closer to home is cheaper and easier.

Scotland is a great place to try skiing or snowboarding, or travel by car to one of Europe's best ski resorts. And we've rounded up the best ski resorts for beginners, experts and families in the UK and across Europe.

Read the full story »

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Snowdrop weekends

February is the best time to see seasonal snowdrops, as one of the first bulbs to bloom brightens up the wintry British landscape.

Celebrate the first sign of spring and see the carpets of snowdrops that appear at this time of year at many woodlands, parks and gardens around the UK.

Read our snowdrop round-up »

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England's top hotel

Award ceremony From left to right: host Natasha Kaplinksy, hotel owners Simon and Jill Rhatigan, and the AA's Rupert Miles

The AA's Hotel of the Year for England is the Feversham Arms Hotel and Verbena Spa. Originally an old coaching inn, the hotel was rebuilt and renamed in 1855 by the Earl of Feversham. The decor is eclectic, country warmth with a designer twist, the Mousey Thompson classic furniture blending perfectly with Julia Burns’ contemporary paintings. The recently refurbished new spacious contemporary suites and bedrooms are fabulous and quality is high throughout. Staff are friendly and welcoming.

This four-star hotel boasts two AA Rosettes for a modern British menu that draws heavily on local produce, with rich Yorkshire game and tasty North Sea fish appearing in abundance. Guests can choose from three evening menus including the daily changing set price menu, a la carte and the six course tasting menu.

The Verbena Spa, launched in October 2008, adjoins the hotel via a glass walkway and provides a range of Elemis treatments and products, a heat experience area, an outdoor hot tub and seven treatment rooms, with a south-facing terrace garden, designed by Matthew Wilson of the RHS, boasting comfortable seating where guests can relax.

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KeyGuide BritainExclusive extract

This exclusive four-page extract from KeyGuide Britain provides an interesting and informative snapshot of life in Britain. Read about fox-hunting, organic farming, shopping, football, cricket, pubs and more.

KeyGuide Britain features regional chapters, providing the perfect travel companion for anyone wishing to explore different areas of the country. Each section features all the sights, walks, drives and listings for an area, and the guide is colour-coded. There are expert recommendations on where to eat, stay, shop and be entertained, great walks and drives, and beautiful photography throughout. In addition there is a super-clear atlas of Britain with index and locations pinpointed.

Download PDFClick here to open the extract from 'Keyguide Britain'.
Adobe Acrobat is required to open this PDF file.

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What's on this month

14-31 January Celtic Connections »
25-31 JanuaryWelsh Open Snooker Championships »
29-30 JanuarySalisbury Winterfest »
29-31 JanuaryAdventure Travel Live »
30-31 JanuaryNewcastle Wedding Show »
4-7 FebruaryMCN London Motorcycle Show »
5-7 FebruaryEnglish National Badminton Championships »
8 FebruaryHurling the Silver Ball »
9-14 FebruaryNational Squash Championships »
12-14 FebruaryGlasgow Holiday and Travel Show »
12-14 FebruaryCheltenham Folk Festival »
13-21 FebruaryJorvik Viking Festival »
14 FebruarySt Valentine's Day »
14 FebruaryChinese New Year Southampton celebrations »
16 FebruaryThe Great Spitalfields Pancake Race »
21 FebruaryChinese New Year London celebrations »
21 FebruaryChinese New Year Liverpool celebrations »

Chinese New Year Celtic Connections Jorvik Viking Festival

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