An estimated 31.2m separate leisure journeys will be taken before Christmas Eve, the highest number since drivers were first asked about their festive travel plans in 2013, a study by the RAC and INRIX has found.
This week could be the scene of some pre-Christmas panic on the roads as many drivers look to complete their journeys to see family and friends well ahead of the big day – a huge 25m leisure trips by car are predicted to be taken between today and the end of Sunday, with Wednesday and Thursday set to be the worst for traffic delays as leisure and everyday commuter traffic combine.
Looking forward to the start of next week, an estimated 5.6m getaway trips are planned for 23 December and Christmas Eve, and, with fewer commuters on the roads these days, motorists will be hoping for trouble-free journeys as they drive home for Christmas.
Data provided by transportation analytics specialists INRIX indicates the M1 in Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, the northern and western sections of the clockwise M25 and M6 in the West Midlands are set to bear the brunt of the festive traffic. Two of the longest delays are expected on Sunday, with drivers facing queues of more than an hour and a half northbound between Flitwick and Daventry, and nearly an hour on the M25 clockwise between the junctions for the M23 and M40.
Roadworks can be expected on the M4 near Reading, where a large scale Smart motorway project will continue over Christmas. It’s the same story on the M62 west of Manchester towards Warrington, as the hard shoulder is replaced with another lane, pus some emergency lay-bys.
RAC patrol of the year Ben Aldous said:
“Our figures suggest many more drivers are planning leisure trips by car in the run-up to this Christmas this year, so bumper-to-bumper traffic on some motorways and major A-roads is going to be near-guaranteed.
“While Christmas Day is still a little way off, it looks as though millions of drivers are planning to complete their getaway trips this week. Unfortunately, when you add in the prospect of unsettled weather, with heavy rain and strong winds in some parts, these are likely to be pretty unpleasant drives for many of us.
“Popular days for travel also tend to be common days for breakdowns, and our teams will be working flat-out over the whole festive period, regardless of what the weather has in store, to give drivers complete peace of mind should their vehicles let them down. But drivers should remember that a small amount of preparation before setting out can dramatically cut the chances of breaking down in the first place – checking tyre tread and pressure, as well as ensuring oil and coolant are at the right levels, is a must before any long journey.”
INRIX transportation analyst Trevor Reed said:
“It does look as though this week is going to see a marked rise in traffic volumes on major roads in the UK, with Thursday expected to see the largest increase in vehicles compared to a normal December day. Drivers desperate to get away for Christmas are going to find themselves competing with commuters and shoppers for road space, so we recommend keeping tuned in to the changing traffic conditions on local radio and via in-car apps.”
Highways England’s customer service director Melanie Clarke said:
“We’re doing everything we can to make journeys as smooth as possible and that’s why we’re keeping around 98% of the road network we manage, free from roadworks.
“Safety is our top priority and we know from experience that almost half of breakdowns can easily be avoided if motorists carry out simple vehicle checks before setting off over this period.
“We’re asking people to be prepared too. Make sure you have everything you need for your journey should there be any delays, check before and during your journey and also make sure you’re aware of the signs and signals on motorways.”
Met Office Chief Meteorologist, Dan Suri, said
“This week is looking unsettled with spells of strong winds and heavy rain interspersed with brighter, showery conditions. It will turn very windy in parts of the west during Wednesday with gales or severe gales and a yellow national severe weather warning for wind is in place from Wednesday afternoon into early Thursday morning.
“The second half of the week will be milder across much of the country, after a widespread frost on Tuesday night.”
Looking ahead to traffic between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
A separate RAC survey of drivers’ intentions suggests as many as 33m separate leisure journeys will be taken by car between Christmas Day and the last day of the year, as people criss-cross the country to meet up with friends and family members, wherever they happen to live. Boxing Day and Friday 27th December look to be the busiest, with nearly 6m trips by car expected each day, followed by Saturday with 5.6m and Sunday with 5.3m journeys.
Research among members of the RAC’s Driver Opinion Panel also shows just how important the car is at this time of year – a fifth of drivers (21%) said they feel a fair chunk of Christmas is dominated by driving to see family and friends, while 5% – the equivalent of 1.7m motorists – say they feel a very large part of it is spent driving.