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Edmund King, AA president
I'm Edmund King, president of the AA and visiting Professor of Transport at Newcastle University.
I head up public affairs and communications at the AA and often appear as a transport commentator on radio and television. I am also director and a trustee of the AA Charitable Trust for Road Safety and the Environment, and a director of AA DriveTech.
Outside of the AA, I have recently been appointed chairman of the influential Motorists’ Forum and am a member of the transport sector panel of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. I am also a committee member of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association and a member of the Department for Transport’s Cycling Safety Stakeholder Group.
Have we been taken for a ride?
News came last week that the offices of various oil companies had been raid by EU officials looking into possible oil and fuel price fixing across Europe.
We were then told there was no hard evidence to support this.
In the UK we had seen three 8p-10p a litre petrol price swings in 12 months.
This isn’t really a cause of celebration as we fear another big price swing. We have long been warning of the impact of speculators in the oil and fuel markets.
Now, the International Energy Agency warns that commodity traders and other market players are taking control of the fuel trading market.
There is a danger that traditional refiners, who have to balance supply with demand and prefer a smoother market, are being squeezed out by quick-profit players who thrive on what the IEA refers to as 'market volatility'.
The AA also asked the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) last autumn to recommend fuel price transparency to make the market more open. The OFT reported that there was no need for this. We called their report 'a whitewash' and now we see three petrol companies under the EU spotlight.
The AA wants the EU to shine a light on the speculators the IEA is warning about. That is where we fear much of the pressure on prices is coming from. If there is evidence that prices have been artificially hyped then we believe that drivers should be in line for compensation through reduced fuel duty, or at the very least, they should be afforded the protection of price transparency, from oil well to forecourt, and a regulator to enforce a fair market.
There should also be an obligation to plough a proportion of refining and oil/fuel market profits back into European refineries to upgrade and improve their efficiency and reduce European drivers’ exposure to volatile and inflated prices.
Edmund (20 May 2013)
30,000 sign e-petition in only two days
There was quite a dramatic shift of gear for me last Wednesday. Having chaired a meeting of the Motorists’ Forum at the Department for Transport in the morning, I moved on to Parliament to address the AGM of the Bicycle Association and support the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report ‘Get Britain Cycling’.
Despite being AA president, cycling still plays a big part in my life and indeed still brings me some of my happiest moments, but in the last few years I have become genuinely concerned about talk of a “war between cyclists and motorists” – I am both cyclist and motorist and I didn’t want to be at war with myself – or indeed anyone else.
In 2009 I helped contribute to a film and campaign by Kate Cairns whose sister Eilidh was killed by a tipper truck in Notting Hill. It sickens and saddens me some 4 years later to see that another young lady has recently been killed by a truck in similar circumstances.
This isn’t just personal though - the AA has always had an interest in cycling and safety.
I gave evidence to the APPCG’s enquiry “Get Britain Cycling” and the AA is happy to support the recommendations made in their report which was published on Wednesday.
If the recommendations in ‘Get Britain Cycling’ are followed through it should be the catalyst for change to put cycling on the front foot in this country.
The clear vision is to change cycling from a ‘minority sport’ to a mainstream mode of travel. Currently 18% of AA members cycle regularly but if these recommendations become reality we could see these numbers double.
We now need leadership to match this vision. Drivers and cyclists are often the same people and they should all welcome this report.
You can show your support for cycling too by signing the e-petition on the Number 10 website “urging the Prime Minister to pledge that the Government will implement the recommendations in the 'Get Britain Cycling' parliamentary report.”
We’ve already got more than 30,000 signatures, in less than two days. If we get past 100,000 the petition could be debated in the House of Commons.
Edmund (25 April 2013)
A personal tale of woe
Ok I’m no stranger to the media. Indeed the best man at my wedding said, “If Edmund saw a speed camera flash he would stop to do an interview. He does the same whenever he opens the fridge and the light comes on”. Even when I was 8 years old I used to daydream about being interviewed by Jimmy Young on the BBC. Some 30 years later I was.....fairly often.
So I shouldn’t really be surprised that a personal incident last week became headline national news.
On the 14 March me and my colleagues were involved in more than 80 radio and television interviews promoting our latest pothole campaign. A highlight was that a third of AA members’ cars had suffered from pothole damage in the last two years.
Only two days later I was driving my twelve year old, Finbar, to his football match in St Albans. We were early and as I was driving incredibly slowly on a badly potholed road we passed a team mate who indicated that the game was off. As we headed home I stopped to fill up with diesel at the local Morrisons.
As I was pumping gas I heard a really loud whoosh sound like a gun shot (I used to live in LA) followed by escaping air. It sounded like someone had shot my tyres and I asked Finbar if he knew what it was?
Assuming that it must have been the car wash or air from the tyre inflator I finished my £82 fill-up, but as I walked around the front of the car I was astonished to see that it had collapsed onto the tyres - now I understood why the cashier was staring at my Mercedes E Class Estate!
My first thought was that I wished I had stopped filling up when I heard the ‘shot’ as the car looked a write-off, but the worst thing was paying for the fuel and having to apologise for blocking the pumps. The cashier was more than understanding though and even brought me out a cup of coffee. Those gestures of goodwill are worth a million when you are down on your luck.
Then of course I called the AA, and no I didn’t say "Do you know who I am?" Winston was polite, efficient and friendly, although I did point out that I would need a recovery truck rather than a patrol. I was told the truck would be 40 minutes.
I called my local independent garage, Prestige Mercedes who confirmed that they could take the car but couldn’t work on it until Monday. Ironically they are located only about 800 yards from Morrison’s but I couldn’t just drive there.
My wife came to collect Finbar and I sat in the back of my car – still blocking the pumps - and began to tweet.
Some seemed amused at my predicament after I tweeted “Teach me to talk up potholes. My front suspension just collapsed. Need to call the AA. Ho hum.”
David Firn replied “Breaking news: @AAPresident’s suspension has collapsed. Update on time to arrival of fourth emergency service eagerly anticipated.”
I then joined in the banter, apologising for blocking the diesel pump at the forecourt while waiting to be rescued and thanking the cashier for the coffee.
@mike_1727 said “Waves at @AAPresident leaving St Albans Morrisons car park on an AA truck. Bad news fella, that’ll cost you.”
I was asked on Twitter to consider what sort of affect St Albans’ potholes have on cyclists and their bikes. As a keen cyclist I knew the answer only too well - broken springs are better than broken limbs.
After about 30 minutes the AA Recovery patrol turned up and delicately and skillfully manoeuvered my broken car onto the truck to recover it the short distance to the garage. I walked home and took to my bike.
Then the story took off nationally with The Times first running a piece on-line:
AA boss wrecks Mercedes on pothole days after national warning
The story then spread via the Press Association to the BBC, ITV, Sun, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Metro, Mirror, Scotsman and others.
The good news is that the damage was not quite as costly as I had feared - Prestige Mercedes replaced both front springs for £312.
I have since been contacted by hundreds of motorists telling me their own tales of woe, for example:
“The country lanes I go on across the top of the Rollrights to go from Moreton to Banbury every day are a complete nightmare. Because the road is so narrow, even if you can see it, if there is a car coming in the opposite direction, and one behind you - you can't even avoid them!!”
My colleagues, family, friends and Twitter followers, all seem pretty amused by my incident, some even suggesting that I had planned it to get publicity. How could they?
Well I think I have kept my sense of humour about it - but I am looking forward to the time when daffodils overtake potholes this spring.
Edmund (25 March 2013)
It's not just about eco-driving
We were pleased that the Chancellor has listened to us and decided not to go ahead with the proposed fuel duty hike in September. As I commented at the time: AA members would greet this with ‘relief rather than joy’ as pump prices remain high.
Our recent AA/Populus study shows that the ‘Cost of living’ is the greatest concern for AA members and fuel prices make up a substantial proportion of those costs for millions of drivers, particularly those who do high mileage or live in rural areas.
Seeking out the lowest price fuel, using supermarket money-off vouchers and driving in a way that keeps fuel consumption to a minimum are all things that savvy drivers do and it can make a big difference to your annual fuel bill. It’s something that I and my AA colleagues frequently comment on and there are driving tips on the AA’s website to help you do just that.
Sensible driving and taking advantage of money-off offers is a popular theme for money guru Martin Lewis and he spent a lot of time on his new programme ‘Martin Lewis Money Show’ on Thursday showing just how much you can save. He also pointed to the usefulness of reward credit cards and commented on the AA’s Reward Card which earns you points every time you use the card. What’s more, unlike other reward cards he mentioned, the AA card doesn’t carry a fee and if you are an AA member, it earns double points every time you buy fuel. I have already used some of my points to buy a digital radio, hedge trimmer and indeed got £150 off my AA car insurance.
Driving in a fuel-efficient manner is:
And there is a lot you can do to keep your fuel spend to a minimum too.
Fuel prices are a major concern to the AA and its members and I don’t doubt that I’ll be returning to this topic often in this blog.
Edmund (22 March 2013)
Prison sentence for points sends out strong message
The media attention attracted by the Huhne/Pryce case should mean that many drivers in the future will be deterred from trying to swap penalty points.
Previous AA/Populus research of 16,961 drivers suggests that approximately 300,000 drivers admit to having swapped penalty points and more than 3 million claim that they know someone who has persuaded someone else to take their points.
This case sends a very clear message to anyone who thinks that swapping driving licence penalty points for a speeding offence is little different to dodging a parking ticket.
Similar cases have provoked an equally strong response from other judges.
Many drivers just didn’t realise the severity of swapping penalty points but they do now.
As well as the harsh punishment for perverting the course of justice, drivers tempted to take someone else’s penalty points should consider the reality that an offender who faces 12 or more points is likely to be caught again. This increases the futility of a ‘favour’ that could end in jail, lost employment, public humiliation and family break-up.
Edmund (11 March 2013)
AA welcomes new offence
The AA has been campaigning for five years to tighten up enforcement of drug driving - back in 2008 we held a round table with the Home Office, police, Department for Transport, and medical and addiction experts on this issue - so we're pleased to see progress at last.
The Government is introducing a new offence of driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the body. The new offence is included in the Crime and Courts Bill, currently before Parliament. It will enable more effective law enforcement and help to keep our roads safe.
Official figures suggest there are around 200 drug-related deaths on our roads each year but we believe that the figure is much higher as victims aren’t always routinely checked for drugs after crashes.
Ultimately the success of any new offence will be down to police enforcement, education and resources. The new offence would remove the need for police to carry out the somewhat cumbersome Field Impairment Tests (FIT) of standing on one leg etc.
We assume that more drug driving suspects would be screened and given blood tests at police stations and would be charged if over the specified drug levels. We hope that the new offence will deter drug drivers from driving with any level of illicit drugs in their system.
Edmund (7 March 2013)
Driving as a life skill
More than 90 per cent of AA members couldn’t imagine life without their car – and almost as many still enjoy driving. It’s something we often take for granted without really appreciating its value and importance as a life skill.
Of course, that skill can also be a matter of life or death, and with that in mind we set up the AA Charitable Trust in 2008 to promote greater safety behind the wheel. You might have seen some of the fruits of our work on Channel 5 recently in the second series of Dangerous Drivers’ School which showed AA Driving School instructors helping nervous, rusty or dangerous motorists improve their skills with the help of an AA Drive Smart or AA Drive Confident course?
Fate decrees that some people will never learn to drive, or have the chance to do so in the first place, so we have also been helping a small number of young men in the social care system, by funding their driving lessons. Learning to drive is usually done with the support of a family, but that is hardly ever an option for those in residential care and our vision was to provide them with a valuable skill at a time when they were becoming independent, while also helping them to gain confidence and a sense of social inclusion.
Of the four young men who started learning to drive, one has recently passed his theory and practical tests at the first attempt. He is currently training to be a mechanic, so being able to drive himself around is vital to his ambition and employment prospects.
It is a real testament to the hard work of our instructors, the pupils and the support team from Bristol City Council that we have been able successfully to support these young men through their driving lessons and, in some cases, their driving test.
The project has been a real learning curve for all those involved and, once it has drawn to a close, we will be able to assess whether it is the kind of activity we should repeat. The first impressions are very positive, so I hope we can add the scheme to the charity’s bank of success.
So far, the main beneficiaries of the AA Charitable Trust have been the thousands of drivers who have taken a free AA Drive Confident or AA Drive Smart course – not to mention all who share the roads with them! Some 85 per cent of participants said the course made them more confident and 80 per cent that it made them safer behind the wheel.
There’s not much in life that really comes for free, especially the chance to keep yourself, your loved ones and others safe, so I hope some of you will enrol in one of these short courses and take advantage of the AA’s wealth of experience in driving tuition. It might be many years since we were teenagers, but we can all benefit from a little guidance.
Edmund ( 1 March 2013)
"There has been an explosion of interest in cycling, and we must do all we can to continue to fuel it". Read AA president Edmund King's views on cycling in the AA Magazine.
The AA broadly supports The Times Cities fit for cycling campaign.