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AA Logo - For the road ahead

  Welcome to the June issue of Hotspots.

This month we take a look at the shiny new Audi
S3 R-tronic, we explain what the change in road tax
means for you, and show just how valuable your
car keys really are.

There's also advice on what the 2009 budget means for motorists, reasons why you should take breaks on long drives, and we outline the dangers of sneezing at the wheel.

Hotspots is bursting with ideas for weekend breaks and family-friendly days out, including farms and animal parks, trips with Thomas the Tank Engine, and an award-winning pub.

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

Hotspots Editor
  Motoring – highlighting topical advice and the latest news from the world of motoring as seen through  
Car key crime
Keys A rise in vehicle thefts following robberies
Read more »
Wake up call
Take a break - tiredness can kill Plan your pitstops and don't drive tired
Take a look »
Hayfever havoc
Hayfever havoc The dangers of sneezing while driving
Read more»
Car review
Audi S3 R-tronic Get into the new Audi S3 R-tronic
Read article »
Eco-driving tip of the month
eco driving Go greener
Tip of the month »
  Campaigns – news from the frontline as AA President Edmund King and the rest of the Public Affairs team address the big issues affecting motorists today.  
President's log
Edmund King Edmund King gets results
Read more »
Budget response
AA Budget Response The flipside to the scrappage bonus
Budget response »
New road tax rates
Road Tax Disc The cost of keeping your car on the road
New road tax rates »
Call for more bypasses
Bypass sign Drivers want more spent on new roads
Call for more bypasses »
Have your say
AA ZOne Vent your spleen in the AA Zone
Have your say »
  Travel – home or abroad we can help you choose your destination and plan your journey.  
Speed camera detection
Speed camera Are you up to speed on the laws abroad?
Speed camera detection »
Ride the rails
Henry Not just for trainspotters
Ride the rails »
Pub of the year
Pub of the year Feast your eyes on Scotland's award-winner
Pub of the year »
Fun on the farm
Fun on the farm Animal antics for all the family
Fun on the farm »
All change
All Change An exclusive extract from a new AA book
All change »
What's on this month
What's on Our days-out diary
What's on this month »
Traffic news

Car key crime

KeysA 15% rise in vehicles stolen following robbery or burglary

More than 18,500 cars were stolen last year after the keys were taken through robbery or domestic burglary, prompting an appeal from AA Insurance to keep car keys safe from criminals.

Over 50 people a day had cars stolen in this way, with numbers rising by 15 per cent in a year according to our claims data, which shows that thieves are becoming more sophisticated and violent in their methods.

A Parliamentary answer given by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith suggested that last year more than 15,700 cars disappeared because the keys were stolen during a burglary, and a further 2,900 drivers were robbed to obtain keys by, for example, mugging, pickpocketing or carjacking.

This represents 11 per cent of the 170,000 cars recorded as stolen during 2007/08 in the latest British Crime Survey, published by the Home Office.

AA Insurance claims have included:

  • Car keys stolen from a property while the owners are at home, including cases where people have left their keys in the front door; or left ground floor windows open while they sleep at night
  • Cases where burglars have "fished" for keys by putting a hook through the letter box. The first the owners knew of the burglaries was when they noticed their car missing
  • One criminal used keys from a single stolen key ring to carry out a major home burglary and then used the owner's car as a getaway vehicle to carry the stolen possessions
  • Some families have seen two cars vanish from the driveway after burglars took the keys
  • Keys stolen from workplaces, gym lockers and changing rooms
  • Smaller numbers are stolen by way of threats, muggings or carjackings, while others are quietly lifted from unwatched bags or pockets

Half of all cars stolen are over 10 years old – and these are the easiest cars to take because they aren't necessarily equipped with the security and anti-theft devices that come as standard on modern vehicles. Fewer than 20 per cent of stolen cars are under five years old – and most of them can't be stolen without the keys.

AA advice

  • Where possible, keep your car in a locked garage when it is not in use (this will bring insurance discounts, too) Keep the keys in a secure place inside your home – not on the hall table or hanging from a convenient hook by the door
  • Ensure your ground floor doors and windows are locked and bolted when you retire at night and that spare keys are not left in the house if you are going away
  • Consider improving your car's security, for example by having a tracker fitted (this will also bring an insurance discount)
  • Park in public, well-lit car parks particularly where there is good security such as CCTV
  • Carry your car keys in a secure place about your person such as in an inside pocket and not in a handbag which can more easily be taken
  • Never leave keys on show or unattended in a public place such as on a pub or restaurant table
  • Never, ever leave your car unattended with the keys in it. Cars still disappear from drives, filling stations and car parks while the owner is distracted – for example popping back indoors or feeding coins into a car park meter. Insurers may not meet a claim in such cases

Read our detailed guide to car keys and remote controls

Further advice - Thatcham-approved security systems

  [ Go to top ]

Take a break - cup of coffeeWake-up call

Driver tiredness accounts for 10% of all accidents, but AA research shows that two-thirds fail to take effective breaks when driving long distances. Don't take risks.

  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of motorists only ever stop for a quick toilet break
  • One in 20 never stop at all
  • One in 10 motorists admits to nodding off at the wheel
  • 28% say they keep driving when they are tired in order to reach their destination
  • Nearly half (44%) often drive through the night, when travelling long distances, when their body rhythms are at a natural low point

Andrew Howard, Head of Road Safety at the AA, says: "The risk of death or serious injury from falling asleep at the wheel is greater as the grim fact is that these accidents tend to happen at higher speed, as drivers don't brake before crashing."

The risk is greater over a bank holiday when many will drive longer distances than they’re regularly used too and will be tempted to skip breaks and keep driving. If you do this while tired, you are in danger of becoming a statistic – one of the up to 3,000 killed or seriously injured each year as a result of falling asleep.

AA Advice

  • Always plan journeys properly. Any journey over three hours should include a minimum 15-minute break and longer journeys need more breaks, as do drivers not used to driving long distances
  • If you do feel tired when driving, stop as soon as possible. Don't stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway but take the next exit and find somewhere to park, or stop at the next motorway service area
  • Drink one to two cups of caffeinated coffee or a stimulation drink containing caffeine
  • Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect, so try and have a short nap of no more than 15-20 minutes. Much more than this and you might wake up feeling groggy
  • Remember to lock the doors of your vehicle if you are taking a nap
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Hayfever havoc

If you sneeze while driving at 70mph you lose your vision for as much as 100 metres. Have a 'fit' of, say, eight sneezes in a row and you've just travelled 'blind' for nearly half a mile.

Hayfever is particularly bad in the summer but accidents could be minimised if sufferers take action:

  • Only take medication that doesn't cause drowsiness
  • Get someone else to drive if you are suffering greatly from hayfever
  • Enquire about pollen filters, if available for your make of car
  • Keep a box of tissues on or near the dashboard for easy access
  • Slow down and drop back if you're about to sneeze
  • Wear sunglasses to block out bright sunlight
  • Close windows and air vents to reduce pollen grains in the car
  • Vacuum car mats and carpets regularly during summer, to get rid of dust
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Mini magic

Did you know that it's 50 years since the first Mini rolled off the production line? The AA began using Minivans in 1962, and by 1965 they were the standard-issue patrol vehicle. We have one surviving example.

More about historic AA vehicles

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Car review

Audi S3 R-tronic

Audi S3 R-tronicFollowing a subtle refresh of the A3 range, Audi has also tweaked the flagship version of its premium compact hatch. The S3 gains the same improvements as the rest of the range as well as an enhanced range of options.

At the heart of the S3 is the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Using the T-FSI technology seen elsewhere in the Audi range, it uses direct injection to increase efficiency and power making the S3 one of the most powerful cars in the segment.

To cope with the high power output, the S3 features the quattro four-wheel drive system as standard. This layout is unusual in the hot hatchback sector and, as well as giving the necessary grip and traction to exploit the power in all conditions, it gives the S3 extra cache over its rivals.

As well as the mechanical enhancements, the S3 benefits from a number of styling changes to distinguish it from its stablemates. Now available in three and five-door form, the S3 has a chrome grille, extended spoilers and skirts all round. At the rear there is also a silver-coloured aerodynamic diffuser and twin exhaust pipes, plus subtle S3 badges front and rear. The S3 also gets Xenon-plus headlights as standard, featuring the LED daytime running lights that have become something of an Audi feature.

Our verdict

The S3 delivers on all its promises, offering rapid performance, secure handling and a high level of comfort. The subtle enhancements increase its appeal and it remains one of the most usable hot hatches currently on sale.

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

Read the full review »

More recent car reviews »

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Eco driving tip of the month


Roof racks and boxes create extra wind resistance and so increase fuel consumption. If you don't need it take it off; if you do, pack carefully to reduce the extra drag.

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President's log

AA President Edmund King

As ever it has been busy on the campaigning front. However, it's good to report back on two successful campaigns.

Following extensive campaigning from the AA, the Home Office has announced that it will consult on further restrictions for rogue wheel-clampers working on private land.

We commissioned a Populus poll of 100 MPs and highlighted the fact that 86% of MPs supported further action to outlaw or restrict the cowboy clampers. I had a meeting with the Home Office Minister to make our case. Our campaign included high profile coverage on 'BBC Breakfast', 'GMTV', 'BBC Watchdog' and a 'Tonight with Trevor McDonald' documentary. If we are not happy with the new regulations we will push for clamping to be outlawed as it is in Scotland.

The AA has been active in promoting a car scrappage scheme similar to the one in Germany that led to a 40% increase in car sales. In March in the UK sales fell by 30%. We first raised the issue with the Prime Minister's adviser last September. I attended a press conference at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders on the subject, discussed it with Treasury Ministers, and wrote to the Business Minister and Lord Mandleson's special adviser. We also discussed it when we met Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon MP.

We were therefore delighted that a scrappage scheme was announced in the recent budget. Let's hope this leads to an uptake of greener, cleaner, safer cars and indeed fewer breakdowns.

Follow Edmund on Twitter »
Follow our Patrol of the Year on Twitter »
Follow our Relay Patrol of the Year on Twitter »
Have your say in the AA Zone »

Edmund King
AA President

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Budget response

While the AA welcomed the Chancellor's announcement, last month, about the introduction of a vehicle scrappage scheme, we see the unexpected plans to hike fuel duty by 2p per litre in September as a "body blow" and a "fuel duty bombshell" for motorists.

The scrappage scheme will see the consumer receive a benefit of £2,000 (£1,000 government grant and £1,000 from vehicle manufacturers) if they cash in vehicles registered before 31 July 1999 and buy a new model but in effect, motorists will be paying for this scheme at the pumps.

Read the AA's full response to the budget »

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New road tax rates

Tax disc

This year's budget confirmed that from 1 May 2009 the road tax system would be based on 13 bands rather than the previous seven.

Annual road tax rates for this year range from £0 for a car in band 'A' emitting less than 100g/km CO2 to £405 for a car in band 'M' emitting more than 255g/km.

Check how your road tax bill will change »

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  Call for more bypasses

The road fund licence hit 100 years last week, yet spending from the road tax pot is failing to meet demand for road construction, on both a local and a national level.

The road fund licence was created on 29 April 1909 with the single intention to spend it on roads, but over the years more and more has been siphoned off to prop up the public finances.

AA research shows that at least two thirds of AA/Populus panel members support calls by local communities for bypasses, particularly if there is a proven safety need.

Even schemes in rural areas, where a main road bypass is likely to have environmental implications, get 66% support, with 27% strongly in favour versus 14% disagreeing or strongly against.

Dangerous sections of road get 82% support for an upgrade, and new strategic routes that connect cities, ports and airports have 71% approval.

The motorists' panel was asked which types of new road scheme should go ahead:

  • in towns and cities - 67% agree (27% strongly), 11% disagree
  • on main roads in rural areas - 66% agree (27% strongly), 14% disagree
  • to by-pass communities - 78% agree (37% strongly), 8% disagree
  • to make roads safer - 82% agree (42% strongly), 6% disagree
  • to link cities, areas of population, ports and airports - 71% agree (36% strongly), 14% disagree

Towns and villages where communities are campaigning for a bypass or recently had schemes rejected include: A590 High and Low Newton in Cumbria, A57/A628 Mottram in Longdendale, Hollingworth and Tintwistle bypass near Manchester, A82 Inverness to Fort William in Drumadrochit and Invermoriston bypass, Boston bypass, Holsworthy bypass in Devon, Kingskerswell in Devon, Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, and Ormskirk in Lancashire.

In times of economic downturn, construction of new and improved roads can play a major role in helping restore economic prosperity and it represents exceptional value for money with many road schemes repaying their costs in saved lives, improved environment, reduced congestion and better journey times 10 times over.

Our AA Populus panel has shown that a large majority agree that new roads should be built and outdated ones improved. At this time of financial uncertainty, it would be prudent to invest in something that produces a high rate of return: saving road casualties and reducing congestion certainly makes economic sense.

Join the AA/Populus panel

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Have your say

There's lots happening in the AA Zone right now and hot topics include:

Vent your spleen

If you could be Transport Minister for a day, what would you change?

Rate it or slate it

Whatever you drive, share your likes and gripes. What's good, what's not and how would you rate your car out of 10? Share your opinions in car reviews.

  [ Go to top ]   

Speed cameras abroad

Driving abroad this summer? Check that you're up to speed with the laws on radar detectors and Sat Nav devices that show speed camera locations.

The use or possession of devices to detect police radar is illegal in most European countries, and penalties can include a fine, a driving ban, and even imprisonment.

Some countries now also prohibit the use of GPS-based navigation systems which have maps indicating the location of fixed speed cameras, meaning that you must deactivate the 'fixed speed camera PoI (Points of Interest)' function.

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Ride the rails

HenryMany of Britain's heritage railways are enjoying a revival with events such as 'Day Out With Thomas', afternoon teas, luxury dining, murder-mystery events and real-ale train rides - spend a day or a summer evening travelling through rural England in a beautifully preserved steam locomotive, or even learn to drive one yourself.

Read the full feature

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Pub of the year
Feast your eyes on the best pub in Scotland

Pub of the yearNamed the AA Pub of the Year for Scotland 2008-2009, the Torridon Inn offers modern convenience in cosy surroundings.

Standing on the shores of Loch Torridon, the inn was created by converting the stable block, buttery and farm buildings of nearby Ben Damph House (now known as The Torridon Hotel) in 1996.

Whether you use it as a base to enjoy some of the many activities on offer, or simply want to unwind with a warm fire and a relaxing drink after a hard day's walking, you can be sure of a memorable visit. The cosy bar offers a Highland welcome from staff and locals. Choose from a range of 60 malt whiskies, or enjoy the local real ale and recount the adventures of the day.

The inn has its own restaurant where you can sample high quality, locally sourced food at any time. Hearty soups, sandwiches and bar meals are available during the day, and in the evening there's a choice of succulent starters, delicious main courses and legendary desserts. Local produce is the foundation of menus that feature venison, salmon, haggis and home-made specials. Dinner might begin with beef carpaccio with rocket and parmesan shavings; Gairloch black pudding with mushy peas and crisp wild boar bacon; or smoked haddock and mackerel fishcakes. Typical main course choices include roast Scottish cod with parsley crust, creamy mash, mangetout and lemon butter sauce; breaded striploin of pork with Parma ham and applewood smoked cheddar; and linguine tossed with pesto, asparagus and rocket.

Tea and coffee is served throughout the day and entertainment ranges from indoor games to regular traditional live music sessions.

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  Fun on the farm

Fun on the farmIf you've seen the film 'Babe' and enjoyed the pig's adventures with Farmer Arthur Hoggett, then spring is a great time to meet talking animals at a farm near you (honest).

With lambs chasing after their mums in the fields, this is the season to introduce your kids to the fun of the countryside. And AA Travel lists dozens of farm attractions across England and Wales for you to enjoy.

Simply key in 'farm' in the search name box, hit 'next' and choose Attractions. Then make sandwiches, pack up the car and you're off. Any farm from our selection below will certainly fill up the day.

Dairy Land Farm World near Newquay, Cornwall, is one of our most-clicked farm attractions. Children can have fun getting to know the farm animals in the Farm Park, and cows are milked to music on a spectacular merry-go-round milking machine. Also popular is the Prickly Ball Farm and Hedgehog Hospital in Devon. Get to know all there is to know about hedgehogs, plus there's goat walking, pony and cart rides, pony grooming, lamb feeding (in season), and a petting zoo. Set on Wiltshire downland near Salisbury, Farmer Giles Farmstead has farm animals to feed, ponds, inside and outside play areas, and thrilling tractor rides.

The Hop Farm & Country Park, set among Victorian oast houses in the Kent Weald, should keep parents happy too. As well as indoor and outdoor play areas, an animal farm and shire horses, look out for craft shows, and food and drink festivals. North of London off the M25, Lee Valley Park Farm has many types of farm animals, including rare breeds in the traditional farmyard, and exotic creatures from meerkats to chipmunks. At the Cotswold Farm Park near Stow-on-the-Wold there are nearly 50 breeding herds and flocks of rare British breeds of sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, horses, and poultry. Also rabbits and guinea pigs to cuddle, and safe areas to play in.

Wimpole Home Farm, near Cambridge, is a National Trust property, with a Farm Kitchen serving refreshments and meals. On the farm itself there are rare breeds of domestic animals, new lambs in spring, and sheep shearing in June. There really is a lot to see and do at the White Post Farm Centre in Nottinghamshire. The more than 3,000 animals include pigs, goats and sheep, and exotic animals like bats, reptiles and meerkats. There's also a sledge run, trampolines and pedal go-karts. Fans of 'Blue Peter' and 'Vets in Practice' should recognise Monk Park Farm Visitor Centre in North Yorkshire, which has been a location for filming. This children's favourite has indoor and outdoor viewing and feeding areas.

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  All Change!

All change!Enjoy this exclusive extract from 'All Change!'

This extract forms a pictorial scrapbook of railway history in the West Country. Images range from the 1860s to the 1960s and offer an insight into the railway past of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

The book, by Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury, features some of the most intriguing and least known of Britain's railways.

Adobe Acrobat is required to open this 14.66MB PDF file.

Click here to open the extract from 'AA Change!'

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What's on this month

Fancy a day out but stuck for ideas? Why not take a trip to one of the following events around the UK?

Chelsea Flower Show - 19-23 May

Guardian Hay Festival - 21-31 May

Perth Festival of the Arts - 21-31 May

Coventry Jazz Festival - 21-25 May

Bath International Music Festival - 22 May - 6 June

Chester Folk Festival - 22-25 May

Liverpool Military Show - 23-25 May

Southend Festival of the Air - 24-25 May

Surrey County Show - 25 May

Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling - 25 May

Royal Bath & West Show - 27-30 May

Southport Jazz Festival - 28-31 May

Wychwood Festival - 29-31 May

Edinburgh Marathon - 31 May

Hampton Court Palace Festival - 2-13 June

Oxford Pride - 6 June

Spitalfields Festival - 8-19 June

BBC Gardeners' World Live and BBC Summer Good Food Festival at NEC, Birmingham - 10-14 June

PrideMore days-out inspiration

Weird and wonderful events around the UK

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Automobile Association Insurance Services Limited is an insurance intermediary which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), registration number 310562. You can check this on the FSA's register by visiting the FSA's website or by contacting the FSA on 0845 606 1234. Automobile Association Insurance Services Limited. Registered office: Fanum House, Basing View, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 4EA. Registered number: 2414212 England. For further information please visit

Automobile Association Insurance Services Limited is an insurance intermediary which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), registration number 310562. You can check this on the FSA's register by visiting the FSA's website or by contacting the FSA on 0845 606 1234. Automobile Association Insurance Services Limited. Registered office: Fanum House, Basing View, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 4EA. Registered number: 2414212 England. For further information please visit

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