Brian Shaw, chairman of the AA Motoring Trust, has called for a fundamental rethink on the way roads are taxed and motorists are treated.
He told guests at the 2004 AA Awards dinner, held in London last week: 'For most British people, a tax of more than 300% on fuel is simply unreasonable. The lump sum burden of the road tax disc is also unwelcome to many.
'British motorists actually think paying by the mile for roads through a fair rate of fuel tax is sensible. They are willing to listen to arguments about new toll roads and charges to enter major city centres.
'From all our work, we think there is great scope to evolve new tariffs that are fairer, fit lives better, tackle congestion and direct money to the right places.'
He said motorists' discouragement turned to despair when they saw that of £40 billion raised in road taxes, just £6 billion was spent on the roads, half the level of investment of 25 years ago.
Shaw added: 'The plain fact of the matter is that people are allowed to be killed and maimed in this country for the lack of comparatively cheap and easy corrective measures in a manner which would never be tolerated on the railway, in the air or in the factory.'
He said a key problem was that those who take motorists' money had no direct duty of care to provide good value or safe roads in return.
'Tolled roads provide an exception worth studying,' he said: 'When we carried out safety inspections and found shortcomings in various UK tunnels, the responsible boards acted quickly and sensibly to put things right.
'These boards know that the buck stops with them if they collect tolls but fail to exercise proper care. On our roads, we have organised affairs so that the paying customers' interests are last in the queue. The payments motorists make have been completely detached from the cost of delivering the service, from its quality, from its safety.
'Our roads are a dysfunctional, unregulated monopoly and the challenge is to create a business model where those in charge can respond with direct accountability. If road users are to be transformed from victims to customer, it will require policies which produce a revolution in the relationship between those who pay and those who provide.'
Tory leader backs AA's demands
CONSERVATIVE leader Michael Howard has promised to answer the AA's call to treat drivers like 'customers, not victims' if the party ever comes to power.
Speaking to industry leaders at the AA dinner, Howard said it was vital, despite the focus on public transport, to realise that 90% of all journeys were still by car.
He said: 'The car is part of our transport system and needs a Government to support use of the car, not persecute it. We need a balanced transport system that recognises that for many the car is a necessity. There is not a transport system in the world that could do without the car.'
He also vowed to remove speed cameras that were placed simply to raise money, rather than improve safety, and to raise the speed limit on motorways to 80mph, reflecting the opinions of fleet drivers who called for the speed limit to be raised on Fleet NewsNet last year.
Howard added: 'We will learn from how other countries do it and give people a genuine choice.'