New legislation being proposed by the Treasury could see motorists charged an extra £150 a year to use motorways and A-roads in the UK. The move has been dubbed a "poll tax on wheels" by Edmund King, president of the AA.
The Sunday Times revealed the billions of pounds raised by the charge would be handed to private firms to pay for the management of up to 12,000 miles of existing motorways, dual carriageways and major roads.
It is likely that a network of automatic number plate recognition cameras would be used to catch drivers trying to use the motorways without paying.
The system would be broadly similar to the "vignette" process used in Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and other European countries, where stickers showing that road charges have been paid are displayed in car windscreens.
The Sunday Times learnt that one plan considered late last year was to charge a flat-rate annual access fee of £150 to use the motorways and other major roads. According to a document drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Treasury, the cost would have been partly offset by a cut in road tax.
Government sources confirmed that a £150 levy had been considered before Christmas but said it had been rejected because there would have been "too many losers".
"You're already paying fuel duty, you're already paying vehicle excise duty, you are already paying tolls on some roads and bridges, so an additional access charge is basically an additional tax," AA president Edmund King told the Sunday Times.
"It does nothing really to regulate traffic, it is just an additional charge."
Owners of larger, heavier cars that emit higher amounts of CO2 could be hit by an even bigger annual bill as the government considers a two-tier system that penalises polluting cars.
There is also concern about higher congestion levels on quieter country B-roads as motorists attempt to skirt the charge.