Christmas traffic is set to be the busiest in five years, with almost 30 million trips planned in the run up to next weekend, according to new data.
Analysts from traffic experts Inrix and the RAC are warning of a “frantic Friday” on Christmas Eve as more than five million journeys are made up and down the country.
They are predicting higher than normal levels of traffic on the roads from Monday 20 December through to Friday night, as schools break up and millions of motorists plan festive trips to visit friends and family.
A total of 27m additional “leisure journeys” are expected, with up to 3.7m per day on Monday to Wednesday, rising to 4.1m on Thursday and peaking at 5.3m on Christmas Eve.
The analysts predict there could be less pre-Christmas commuter congestion as more people choose to work from home, but warn that there could still be long delays on key routes at peak times.
Among the routes expected to be most affected by delays are the M6, M60, M40, M25 and A303, with the single worst queue expected to be on the M25 between the junction for Gatwick Airport and the junction for the M40 on Thursday afternoon.
Drivers are being urged to plan their journeys in advance and expect hold-ups. The experts are also encouraging travellers to try to set off earlier in the morning or postpone leaving until later in the evening to avoid the worst delays.
The RAC’s breakdown spokesperson, Rod Dennis, commented: “Despite the increasing prevalence of the Omicron Covid variant, our research shows that the vast majority of drivers are still determined to do Christmas properly this year – in sharp contrast to 12 months ago.
“We’re expecting the biggest Christmas getaway for five years, including a ‘frantic festive Friday’ on Christmas Eve. But with overall traffic volumes in the run-up to the big day set to be down slightly on normal given the current work from home guidance, there’s reason to hope there won’t be too many queues as millions get away to see friends and family.
Inrix transportation analyst Bob Pishue added: “With kids out of school and many Brits taking extended time off for the holidays, drivers can expect moderate delays around the UK, but heavier congestion on motorways in and out of the cities. Leaving later in the day is recommended, as roads will begin to clog up during the early afternoon.”
The post-Christmas period is also expected to see spikes in traffic levels, with up to 4.5m trips taken per day on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and 27 December. The worst post-Christmas jams are expected to be on the clockwise M25 between Gatwick and the M4, with delays of up to 45 minutes on Boxing Day, and 80 minutes on the following day.
Mr Dennis added: “Our figures point to more drivers using the roads between Christmas Day and New Year for leisure trips than normal – perhaps to make up for the fact that last Christmas was such a write-off for so many people.
“Popular days for travel are often busy days for breakdowns, so following our advice to help avoid a breakdown in the first place - by checking tyres and ensuring oil, coolant and screenwash levels are correct - is arguably more important than ever this year.”