The Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA) took its first breath on December 15, 1924 when the void left by the defunct Jamaica Motor Club was deemed a vital one to fill with valuable services to the JAA members and the nation at large. On that day, a 15-man executive team was elected, led by A. W. Farquharson, and immediately the wheels of industry began to turn for this organization. With an entrance fee of two guineas and an annual fee of two pounds, the auspicious formation of the club was heralded in the columns of The Gleaner even before the rules of the club were finalized.
Within a three- month period, the list of potential members spanned from Lucea to Mandeville; from Montego Bay to Oracabessa from Buff Bay to Port Antonio, Laughlands, Shooter’s Hill and Hampstead. By that time also, His Excellency, the Governor had consented to be the Patron of the Association and Vice Patrons included notable historical figures such as Hon. J.A.G Smith, Hon. Col. H. Bryan, Hon. Chas Hope Levy and Hon. W. Coke-Kerr.
One hundred and thirty- seven members were elected by the meeting on March 10, 1925, and the club grew from strength to strength since then. In answer to the requests and plethora of cheques, individual membership was expanded to include corporate membership and the first companies to join were Jamaica Public Service, Bank of Nova Scotia and the Motor Company (1923) Limited.
Although the fundamental member services of roadside and emergency services were provided, the JAA executive took a more global perspective of their role from day one. The JAA, therefore, became renowned for its lobbying activity in the areas of road safety and regulations for road system planning and usage. To this end, there were also resolutions regarding the formation of committees to draft suggestions and regulations for head lights; registration for motor cars, method of notifying tourists of motor tariff for motor hire, speed limit, improvement of roads and increased taxation on motor cars.
At that time, the other services included:
- registration and appointment of repair shops to be used by members;
- registration of chauffeurs wishing to be listed as qualified drivers;
- registration and taxation of motor cars.
Very soon, the JAA’s attention was turned to not only proactive work for improving road conditions and regulations but the reactive process of punishment for misuse of the roadways. With only an estimated 2,000 motor vehicles in use in the island, the complaints of road misuse started in March, 1925 with the reporting of “buses and drays” that were driving on the wrong side of the road. The first complaint of a private vehicle came a little later when the driver of a Studebaker A-692 was cited for road violations on May 5, 1925.
Generally, the JAA worked well with the government, playing a significant role in historic projects such as the implementation of the one way system on Harbour, East and King Streets. Further afield, the JAA successfully continued the mutually beneficial relationship with the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in London. The formal confirmation of the affiliation was received in 1925 and this allowed JAA members many benefits, namely:
- The right to publicize the affiliation to RAC
- Free flow of information from RAC to JAA
- Use of the RAC facilities as is afforded an associate member for up to three months
- Benefit of free legal services in any offence within Great Britain or Ireland
- Full facilities affording to the touring department free of cost
- The services of the engineering staff
- Assistance in case of breakdown: “Get You Home” scheme
- Services of touring guides for the road
As the association matured, the services provided continued to expand:
- Examination of competency for drivers of taxi cabs
- Registration of cars for hire – carrying special plates
- Regulation of traffic in Kingston
Perhaps it was these new duties, in addition to the increasing incidence of traffic disorder, that led to the formation of the ‘Safety First’ Board in 1927, and the subsequent production of the ‘Safety First’ film in 1928.
The JAA’s international alliances were not confined to first world countries, as the association gave valuable assistance and counsel to its Caribbean neighbour, Trinidad Automobile Association (TAA) in 1930. This regional cooperative effort later resulted in the latter association forging closer links with its Government and yielding significant increases in the TAA’s scope of operations and revenue by 1933.
For the past nine decades, the JAA has kept true to its core function and continues its lobbying and public service role over and above the essential services it’s provides for its more than 30,000 members today. The Association has celebrated its rich history, yet embraces modern opportunities by adapting cutting-edge technology to provide 24 hour, all-island roadside and emergency service through use of a full service call centre. Its mobile units, known for the flashy canary yellow colour, are fully stocked with equipment to provide all the services the members need, including a quiet place to sit and complete requisite paperwork depending on the situation.
The JAA has also invested in trained, technically minded, solution-oriented employees to form the teams that represent the Association at all corners of the nation every day. While building on the solid reputation locally, the JAA has made strides in international arenas, including representation at the Federation Internationale De L’Automobile (FIA) conference and features in global magazines. Indeed, as the JAA embarks on a 9th decade of service to Jamaica, the Association is poised to continue its efforts to serve Jamaica’s motorists while raising awareness on road safety and mobility issues.