Years of Innovation: 1979 to 2003

With three-quarters of a century under its belt, the RAA was so well established by 1979 that it might seem reasonable to expect its next 25 years to possess little significant change. Far from that being the case, the remaining years to the RAA's centenary have seen some major and, at times, startling developments.

Many factors contributed to that, but two were most significant: an uncertain economy which at times slid into recession, and a more competitive era which saw the Association both expand its own services and combat competition in areas like emergency road service.

To survive and thrive in this new environment a fresh approach was needed; the Association had to work particularly hard, because, if times were tight, buying food was essential and paying the electricity bill was compulsory, but no-one had to belong to the RAA. The most important advance in membership benefits since the start of the service era was the introduction in 1987 of RAA PLUS, whose revolutionary benefits proved so popular with South Australians that almost 30 percent of members now choose the PLUS option.

The RAA was the first motoring organisation in the world to introduce a battery replacement service and the first in Australia to produce a computer CD packed with touring information -- the TravelGuide CD-ROM. During the 1980s the Mapping Department moved from pen-and-ink drawing to an improved process known as scribing and then to computer mapping. Brand-new operations included the Approved Repair Service and RAA Security Services.


Emergency road service has been based at three different locations since 1979 and, like most operations, has become heavily dependent on computer technology. Together with Technical Services it was a prime consideration when a new property at Mile End was constructed; a property which has since become the Association's Headquarters. Further features for Mile End included a branch office and vehicle inspection centre, but their establishment was part of a policy which grew strongly from the 1980s to provide member facilities throughout the suburbs as metropolitan Adelaide expanded.

Such areas of innovation haven't been confined to member services. Growing concern over car theft led to initiatives like the RAA steering wheel lock and the full metal jacket to make cars more difficult to steal, and a vehicle etching scheme to deter professional thieves. This ongoing campaign culminated in the Association organising a Vehicle Theft Summit during 2000. Similarly, the quest to lower the toll of dead and injured on the roads resulted in the RAA Road Safety Summit during the same year.

The Association's never-ending quest for improved roads played a part in achieving the sealing of the Stuart Highway and the creation of the new Crafers Highway and Southern Expressway.

With membership soaring past half a million, the RAA reached a point where its standing in South Australia and its resources allowed it to put back into the community some of the support which the community has for so long given the Association.

It contributed 100 baby capsules, for example, to an infant restraint hire scheme; it has sponsored alternative energy initiatives including the annual Pedal Prix and solar powered vehicles; it introduced the RAA Family Car of the Year, which has since been incorporated into the national awards for Australia's Best Cars; and it participates in the ANCAP crash testing program in search of safer motoring.

What would the Association's founder members think of all that; about all that has happened since the Edwardian days of motoring's modest childhood? Perhaps they wouldn't be as surprised as we might imagine.

While such matters as advanced computer technology might confuse them, motoring has generally developed in an orderly and steady way. For the most part, cars still use petrol and an internal combustion engine. Motorists are still querying their repair bills. They're still complaining about motoring taxes, still clamouring for maps. Their cars are still breaking down.

One significant change, though, has occurred within the membership structure, for the RAA's home in 1903, in licensed clubrooms with a billiard table, was no place for ladies; and so none were listed among the founder members. There were two, however, who had joined within three weeks of its foundation. Because their involvement was limited by social etiquette to participation in weekend outings they were classified as associates and for some years were charged no subscription.

The fact remains that they had joined within the timeframe allowed for founder members and so, in its centenary year, the RAA's Board of Directors has approved the induction of May Duncan and Florence Thomson as founder members of the Association.

They join their husbands -- Richard Duncan and Ben Thomson -- and 18 other men as the dedicated little pioneering group who created an organisation which grew as part of the fabric of South Australia and now represents more people in the State than any outside Parliament.

2004 to 2010: The Next 100 Years Begin

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