Drivers will be making 11.5m separate festive getaway trips before Christmas Day this year which has led the RAC to dub Friday 22 December ‘Frantic Friday’ – the day when the last of the year’s commuter traffic clashes with people desperately trying to get to see family and friends.
New research by RAC Traffic Watch shows pre-Christmas leisure traffic will peak on Christmas Eve when 1.87m separate getaway car journeys will be taken, but in reality Friday 22 December is likely to be the most congested on the roads as commuter traffic mixes with an expected 1.25m leisure trips.
With the bank holidays falling on weekdays and schools breaking up for Christmas at different times across the UK, the RAC expects an even spread of traffic in the run-up to the big day, averaging about 1.4m getaway journeys each day between today and next Saturday. Leisure traffic is anticipated to then build with 1.56m journeys on 23 December, rising to 1.87m journeys on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself.
The total pre-Christmas getaway traffic will, however, be eclipsed this year by the 17.5m leisure trips that will be taken between 25 December and New Year’s Day as drivers criss-cross the UK to visit friends and family this festive season. Congestion on some parts of the network is therefore inevitable, but with little commuter and commercial traffic the roads will generally be quieter.
The busiest day for leisure trips to see family and friends – and of course trips to the post-Christmas sales – is expected to be Boxing Day according to this year’s study of drivers’ plans, with 5.3m separate journeys planned.
Rail strikes may also have the effect of increasing the number of cars on the roads. There is likely to be disruption on the rail network on a number of days both before and after Christmas, including 22, 23, 24, 27 and 31 December.
Journeys that drivers do make by road before Christmas will unfortunately be more costly this year compared to last. It costs around £3 more per tank on average to fill up a 55-litre family car this December (£66.40 to fill up a petrol car compared to £63.30 in 2016; £67.77 to fill up a diesel car compared to £64.65 in 2016). The RAC flagged there was a risk that prices could rise as a result of the temporary closure of a major North Sea pipeline, but thanks to a relatively stable oil price and a strengthened pound wholesale prices have so far remained fairly static – giving some relief to motorists.
RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “The roads are traditionally busy in the run-up to Christmas, especially when you have commuters, commercial and leisure traffic all competing for space. Things tend to get worse on the last working day before Christmas, with ‘Frantic Friday’ this year falling on the 22 December – we strongly urge drivers planning long journeys to avoid this day if they possibly can.
“We’re then expecting pre-Christmas leisure trips to peak on Christmas Eve, with getaway traffic combining with the inevitable dashes to the shops for last-minute Christmas presents. Highways England has announced that 99% of England’s strategic roads – that’s motorways and major A-roads – will be free of roadworks by this time which should ease things, but it only takes a single accident or breakdown in some locations to bring traffic grinding to a halt.
“As always, the message to drivers is to plan ahead and try to avoid peak times if you can. Depending on where you live in the UK, schools have been breaking up since Friday 15 December so if you have a chance to complete your journey sooner than the end of next week then it might be a good idea to do that.
“Don’t let an avoidable breakdown get in the way of you reaching your destination this Christmas. A few moments now spent checking the condition of your car could save hours stuck in the dark. Make sure you have enough fuel for your journey, and ensure your oil and screenwash are topped up to the correct levels. While there are no signs yet of the recent harsh wintry conditions returning, you should still check that your tyres have plenty of tread and are properly inflated. Finally, carry an emergency kit of food, water, a torch and some warm blankets so you and your passengers can stay reasonably comfortable in the event your car does let you down.”
Highways England’s customer service director Melanie Clarke said: “We’re doing everything we can to make journeys as smooth as possible this Christmas and that’s why we’re keeping 99% of the road network we manage free from roadworks. Over the past two years we’ve already added 190 lane miles of much-needed capacity and that will make life easier for those travelling around this month, as the festive countdown begins.”
Met Office senior press officer Grahame Madge added: “The secret to a successful and stress-free Christmas is planning and preparation. Just as you wouldn’t want to buy your presents in a Christmas Eve panic, it’s never sensible to leave planning your travel arrangements until the last minute either. Take time out to plan any trip, download the Met Office weather app or check our website and give your vehicle the once over. That way you’ll be setting off on a more relaxing journey, knowing that your car is safe and knowing what weather you can expect on your journey. Just don’t forget the presents!”
Planned leisure car journeys by day
|17 to 24 December 2017||25 December to 1 January 2018|
|Sunday 17 December – 1.59 million||Monday 25 December – 1.87 million|
|Monday 18 December – 1.59 million||Tuesday 26 December – 5.30 million|
|Tuesday 19 December – 1.2 million||Wednesday 27 December – 2.18 million|
|Wednesday 20 December – 1.25 million||Thursday 28 December – 1.87 million|
|Thursday 21 December – 1.25 million||Friday 29 December – 2.18 million|
|Friday 22 December – 1.25 million||Saturday 30 December – 1.56 million|
|Saturday 23 December – 1.59 million||Sunday 31 December – 1.56 million|
|Sunday 24 December – 1.87 million||Monday 1 January 2018 – 935 thousand|
|Total for above period – 11.53 million||Total for above period – 17.46 million|
Anticipated busiest times to travel on the roads
- Friday 22 December, between 4pm and 8pm
- Sunday 24 December, between 10am and 2pm
- Tuesday 26 December, between 10am and 2pm (later where there are Boxing Day football matches)
Reduce the chances of a breakdown – remember FORCES:
- F is forFuel – make sure you have enough for your journey
- O is forOil – check your levels before you set off and top up if needed
- R is forRubber – make sure all your tyres have plenty of tread and enough pressure, and look at the condition of your windscreen wipers too
- C is forCoolant – again, check you have the right amount before setting out
- E is forElectrics – with darker days, having fully functioning lights is more important than ever
- S is forScreenwash – essential in clearing your screen and keeping your view of the road ahead clear
For more information on how to help prevent a breakdown this winter, visit the guide on the RAC Drive website.