Fleet News

Christmas congestion expected to peak on Friday

The RAC has dubbed Friday December 22 ‘Frantic Friday’ – the day when the last of the year’s commuter traffic clashes with people trying to get to see family and friends.

It expects drivers to be making 11.5m separate festive getaway trips before Christmas Day this year.

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 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 December 23, 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 December 25 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 December 22, 23, 24, 27 and 31.

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.”

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.”

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)


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