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Drivers planning 20 million getaway trips as the country breaks for Christmas

Press Release   •   Dec 17, 2018 00:01 GMT

As many as 20 million individual Christmas leisure trips will take place this week in the run-up to Christmas, a study of drivers’ travel plans and congestion forecasts conducted by the RAC and INRIX reveals.*

The research suggests a staggered spread of getaway traffic throughout this week, peaking towards the weekend as large volumes of everyday commuter traffic combine with people making leisure journeys. Consequently, Thursday 20th and the festive but ‘frantic’ Friday 21st are likely to be some of the worst days with 2.5 million and 2.8 million individual journeys expected to be taken respectively.

Data from travel analytics specialists INRIX indicates Wednesday through to Friday will see some significant congestion on major roads, with drivers travelling on the M25, M6 and M40 all likely to face long delays. On Thursday, delays of up to three hours are expected on one section of the northbound M6, while on Friday part of the southbound M40 could see drivers queuing for more than an hour and a half.

However, when it comes to pure leisure journeys over Christmas, traffic is likely to peak on Boxing Day when some 6.8 million individual trips will be made as drivers cross the country to see family and friends, followed by Thursday 27th December when 4.4 million journeys are expected to be taken.

The anticipated jams will be compounded by extensive disruption to the rail network – both planned and unplanned – that could force more people onto the roads. Strikes are likely to affect routes run by Northern Rail and South Western Railway, and Network Rail is planning extensive engineering work on lines running into major stations including London Paddington and Victoria.

RAC Patrol of the Year Mark Souster said: “The run-up to Christmas is traditionally a very busy time on the roads and for us as Patrols, and 2018 looks to be no exception – although our data suggests drivers are planning on getting away early in some cases and spreading their journeys across a number of days, which would certainly be no bad thing.

“It’s vitally important every driver planning a trip gives their car a once over to make sure it’s up to the job, as a single breakdown can bring some roads to a grinding halt, slowing down the Christmas getaway for all of us. A few moments spent checking things like fuel, oil, coolant and screenwash levels and the condition and pressure of tyres could make the difference between a stress-free journey and one plagued by a breakdown. It might feel like yet another thing to think about before Christmas but it’s a fact that many of the breakdowns we see are avoidable if drivers just do these few checks before they set out.”

INRIX data scientist Joshua Kidd said: “Our data shows that compared to a normal day, Thursday 20th December will see the biggest increase in cars on the road. With most drivers setting out mid-morning, traffic will become heavier over the course of the afternoon and stay congested into the evening. But it’s not just those off to see family and friends - commuters, last-ditch shoppers and online deliveries will contribute to clogging the roads. Drivers are advised to seek out alternative routes to their destinations and use the latest technology for real-time updates.”

Highways England’s customer service director, Melanie Clarke, said: “We’re doing everything we can to make journeys as smooth as possible for this Christmas getaway and that’s why we’re keeping more than 97 per cent of our road network free from roadworks.

“We know that the Christmas period is one of the busiest times on our roads and we’d also like to remind people about the importance of checking their vehicle before setting off on their journeys. Simple things like checking your fuel and oil levels, tyre pressures and that all lights are working properly, can keep you moving and the network flowing.”

Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge said: “With millions of journeys being made over the festive holidays, we’re urging travellers to check the forecast before they travel. Winter weather can bring many risks, but knowing the forecast in advance and being aware of any potentially hazardous weather conditions you may face will help you prepare and it will make all the difference to your journey. Surprises have their place at Christmas, but it’s best to reserve them for the giving of presents, rather than being needlessly caught out by the weather.”

In numbers: expected Christmas getaway trips and traffic conditions

Date Planned leisure trips Worst times to travel Best times to travel Worst road for long delays
Wed 19th December 2.8m 3pm to 6.30pm After 7.30pm M25 clockwise from J20 to J28 from 3.30pm. Up to 80min delay
Thu 20th December 2.5m 11.30am to 6.30pm After 8pm M6 north J15 to J25 from 12.30pm. Up to 181min delay
Fri 21th December 2.8m 11.30am to 6pm After 7.30pm M40 south from M42 Warwickshire to J8A (Oxford). Up to 110min delay
Sat 22nd December 2.2m 10.30am to 4pm Before 9.30am or after 7.30pm M40 north from J8A (Oxford) to M42 Warwickshire. Up to 61min delay
Sun 23th December 1.9m 4pm to 6.30pm Before 11am or after 8pm -
Mon 24th December 2.5m 11am to 1pm At other times M1 north J21 (Coventry/Leicester) to J26 (Nottingham/Ripley). Up to 22min delay


In full: roads expected to be worst affected



Region Location Peak congestion from Predicted travel time (mins) Total delay (mins)
19th December
Greater London M25 Clockwise J20 (Hemel Hempstead) to J28 (Chelmsford) 3.30pm 114 79
Greater London M25 Anticlockwise J20 (Hemel Hempstead) to J11 (Woking) 3.15pm 86 58
North West England M62 West J27 (Batley) to J18 (Manchester ring road) 6.30pm 76 48
South West England M5 South J16 (Thornbury) to J19 (Portishead) 5.30pm 41 31
North West England M60 clockwise J6 (Sale) to J19 (Manchester) 3pm 44 28
20th December
West Midlands M6 North J15 (Stoke-on-Trent) to J25 (Wigan) 12.30pm 229 181
Greater London M25 Anticlockwise J20 (Hemel Hempstead) to J11 (Woking) 5pm 131 86
South East England M20 East J8 (Lenham) to J13 (Folkestone) 7.30pm 82 56
South East England M3 South J6 (Basingstoke) to J13 (Bournemouth) 3pm 65 44
Greater London M25 Anticlockwise J4 (Bromley) to J30 (London E & C) 2.30pm 54 39
21st December
West Midlands M40 South (M42) to J8A (Aylesbury) 2.30pm 157 110
West Midlands M40 North J8A (Aylesbury) to M42 12pm 84 35
West Midlands M6 South J20 (Macclesfield) to J16 (Newcastle-under-Lyme) 5.15pm 58 33
West Midlands M5 North J4A M42 to Ray Hall interchange 7.45pm 39 21
Scotland M8 West J12 (Riddrie) to J29 (Paisley) 12.15pm 21 8
22nd December
West Midlands M40 North J8A (Aylesbury) to M42 5.45pm 105 61
West Midlands M6 North J15 (Stoke-on-Trent) to J25 (Wigan) 7.15am 104 59
South West England A303 West Salisbury Road to A350 2.45pm 46 19
West Midlands M6 South J20 (Macclesfield) to J16 (Newcastle-under-Lyme) 12.30pm 43 18
West Midlands M5 North J4A (M42) to Ray Hall interchange 6pm 31 14

A map showing some significant congestion by UK region can be found below.

Notes to Editors

* About the data in this release: planned leisure trips based on RAC survey of drivers’ travel plans (sample size 2,400 UK motorists); congestion information based on INRIX data. Globally, INRIX analyses 500 Terabytes of data from 300 million different sources covering over 5 million miles of road. The data used is the congested or uncongested status of every segment of road for every minute of the day

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