The warning follows Transport Secretary Alistair Darling's move to launch a national debate on the introduction of road-user charges (Fleet NewsNet June 19).
Pro-Drive, the Stafford-based fleet risk management and driver training company, is warning charges could have a direct impact on safety in a number of ways, particularly if the scheme is extended to motorways such as the M25, where charges may be introduced with no alternative relief road.
Graham Hurdle, managing director of Pro-Drive, said: 'The aim of tolling is to redistribute traffic away from congested areas and in the case of the Birmingham relief road, drivers will have the choice of two motorways.
'However, if tolls start to appear on other sections of motorway with no alternative relief road, as is widely predicted, it is inevitable that increased volumes of traffic will be forced on to A-roads and through urban areas. This means that, statistically, traffic is being shifted away from the safest roads and on to more dangerous ones.'
Figures show that the average accident rate on motorways is 11 accidents per 100 million kilometres, which is about one eighth of the rate in built-up areas. The knock-on effect, Pro-Drive argues, is that as A-roads near motorways become more congested, drivers will look for short cuts to avoid the traffic. They will then end up driving in unfamiliar territory, becoming increasingly frustrated at being lost and start speeding if they are late for an appointment, heightening the chances of being involved in an accident.
Hurdle added: 'There is also the safety issue at the tolls themselves. While conducting emergency service driver training in London, I have witnessed incidents of erratic driving at the entrance to the congestion charging zone where drivers have pulled over suddenly or attempted a U-turn to avoid paying. I would anticipate that driving could be equally unpredictable near the entrance to the toll.'
He said he supported use of controlled car sharing programmes as an alternative.