But the early years of motoring were far different from today, and not necessarily better, as each local government established its own rules of the road and had its own system of enforcing them. The Auto Club challenged this inconsistent enforcement of traffic laws in a series of lawsuits in the early 20th century, and in 1920 the California Supreme Court gave the state government the final word on traffic regulation. In 1923, the California Vehicle Act, which included regulations drafted by Auto Club attorneys, was established.
In 1924, the Auto Club had established its own Highway Patrol Service that aided stranded motorists, repaired street signs, swept up broken glass, and assisted with recovery efforts. At the same time, the state’s high court forbade counties from hiring their own traffic officers. State legislators tried to provide assistance to local law enforcement, but couldn’t create a system that was politically acceptable among a majority of communities in California. Eventually, they agreed with county commissioners, city police officials, and the Auto Club that California needed one statewide agency to enforce the new laws. In 1929, the state established the California Highway Patrol and made it a division of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The Auto Club agreed that the term “highway patrol” was appropriate for the new agency and relinquished the name. This marked the beginning of cooperative efforts between the organizations. In 1947, the Auto Club backed the establishment of the CHP as an independent agency, separate from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The two organizations also agreed on the need for improving traffic safety. In 1998, the organizations worked together to win passage of the graduated driver license law, which requires teenagers to gain experience behind the wheel before obtaining their full license. A 2013 Auto Club analysis showed that the number of at-fault fatal and injury crashes for 16-year-old drivers declined by 68 percent since the law took effect. The drop was 51 percent among 17 year olds.
More recent collaborative efforts include sponsoring legislation requiring the use of child passenger safety seats, raising awareness of the problems caused by distracted driving, and honoring law enforcement officers for recovering stolen vehicles. To thank and provide assistance to the brave CHP men and women who work tirelessly to keep our roads safe, the Auto Club entered into a 10-year agreement with the CHP 11-99 Foundation to benefit its Scholarship Program.
The Auto Club and the CHP have worked together for decades to keep California motorists safe, and while many challenges remain, the Auto Club will continue to support its CHP partners for decades more.