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Drivers told to expect jams as schools break up for summer

Drivers are expected to make more than 9m individual leisure journeys by car between Friday and the end of the weekend, with the start of the summer school holidays in England and Wales likely to be marked by the sight of miles of queuing traffic.

Research conducted by the RAC of the travel plans of 2,300 motorists suggests that ‘getaway’ traffic will peak on Friday at around 3.8m separate leisure trips – and with normal weekday commuter traffic also vying for space on the roads, the RAC expects the day to be something of a ‘frantic Friday’ for many people desperate to start their summer breaks.

Data from transportation analytics provider INRIX shows drivers on some routes will experience some very lengthy delays compared to a normal Friday. Those heading south on the M5 between Gloucester and Devon can expect delays of around an hour and a quarter, while those going west on the A303 between the M3 in Hampshire and A37 in Somerset – another very popular holiday route – can expect journeys to take an hour longer than usual. A single breakdown or collision could easily extend these delays still further.

Saturday is likely to be the next busiest day on the roads, with the RAC estimating 3.2m leisure journeys by car, followed by 2.2m on Sunday as families take to the road to start their summer holidays. In total, over the 16 days between Friday 20 July and Saturday 4 August, the research suggests in the region of 34m individual leisure trips will be taken – with Saturday 28 July alone seeing in the region of 4.5m journeys.

RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “This weekend tends to be one of the busiest on the roads for leisure journeys, second only to Easter and Christmas. On some popular routes, this may well mean gridlock, especially through the second half of Friday when commuters and holidaymakers will be sharing space on the same stretches of the UK’s roads. As a result, it will almost certainly feel like a ‘frantic Friday’ for some.

“The next peak after this weekend will be Saturday 28 July according to our research, by which time the vast majority of schools in England and Wales will have broken up for the summer. And if the weather remains fine, that could lead to many more people deciding to jump in the car to enjoy a short notice ‘staycation’, adding to the weight of traffic.”

INRIX data scientist Joshua Kidd said: “Our data suggests that the UK’s major transport corridors will be worst affected as the country’s schools break for the summer. As a result, the shortest routes to popular holiday destinations may not be the quickest. Drivers should ensure they check live traffic reports before setting off and consider using alternative routes to avoid the worst of the congestion. If possible, they should also try to leave early morning or in the evening, as the midday and early afternoon periods will be the busiest times to travel.”

Met Office Chief Meteorologist, Steve Ramsdale, said: ““With temperatures expected to climb again as we head towards the weekend, and some locations expected to experience temperatures of 30C or more under clear skies, it is vital motorists plan for longer journeys in warm sunshine. With clear skies UV levels will be high, while the potential for delays may mean there are longer spells between travel breaks. Keeping hydrated will help overcome uncomfortable journeys.”

Travel this weekend – in numbers

Date Leisure trips by car Worst times to travel Best times to travel Worst roads for long delays
Friday 20 July 3.8m 1400 to 1730hrs 1900 to 2100hrs M40 south, J3a to J1a: 1hr 30min delay at lunchtime
M5 south, J12 to J31: 1hr 17min delay late afternoon
M5 north, J31 to J12: 1hr 9min delay mid-afternoon
A303, M3 to A37: 52min delay late afternoon
Saturday 21 July 3.2m 1130 and 1300hrs 0700 and 0900hrs M25 anticlockwise, J23 to J16: 40min delay early afternoon
M1 north, J6 to J23a: 20min delay late afternoon
Sunday 22 July 2.2m 1200 and 1300hrs 0700 and 0900hrs M25 anticlockwise, J23 to J16: 30min delay at lunchtime
M40 south, J3a to J1a: 20min delay late afternoon

Top tips for avoiding – or just coping – with the jams

1 Think carefully about when you’re travelling Most traffic queues are caused by too many cars on the same roads at the same time. If you can travel outside the peak times – think early in the morning or later in the evening – you can easily miss them.
2 Make sure your car, and anything you are towing, are up to the job… Many summer breakdowns are avoidable – punctures for instance can be caused by a tyre that is in poor condition or just not inflated properly. And ageing batteries can struggle in lots of stop-start traffic – consider replacing it if you have any concerns. And check your air conditioning is cooling properly – if it’s not, it might need re-gassing, an easy job for a good garage.
3 …and make sure you and your passengers are as well Hungry, thirsty or tired passengers are recipes for in-car irritability – and ‘carguments’. So when setting out, pack enough food and water to keep your passengers happy, and plan in enough breaks along the way.

The RAC’s Rod Dennis added: “Where possible, we’d recommend drivers try to avoid the busiest times on the roads – or just allow for a longer journey by planning in enough stops, especially if travelling with young children.

“It’s also essential drivers know their vehicles are up to the job before setting off on a long drive – there are few worse ways to start a summer holiday than being stuck at the side of the road. A 10 minute check of the condition of the tyres on a car (and on a trailer or caravan if you have one), and of the oil and coolant levels, could save hours of misery.”

The RAC has put together a comprehensive guide on to how to avoid breakdowns experienced in warmer weather to help drivers.

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