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Christmas traffic expected to fall as families stay at home

Busy motorway

Fleets should expect quieter roads this Christmas, with 28% fewer leisure trips planned, despite the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

New research, from the RAC, suggests that private motorists are planning 13m trips to see friends and family this Christmas during the coronavirus ‘travel window’ December 23-27, but a fifth won’t be travelling because of Covid.

With two weeks to go until Christmas, the greatest number of individual trips – some 3.1m – look likely to take place on the first day travel restrictions are eased in England, Scotland and Wales, Wednesday December 23.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are predicted to see 2.8m and 2.5m trips respectively, around the same number as are traditionally planned for these days based on an analysis of RAC data over the past five years.

“The pandemic looks set to have a profound effect on drivers’ plans,” Rod Dennis, RAC

A further 2.1m expect to travel between December 23-27, but aren’t sure on which days yet, it says.

The research, which was conducted after the UK Government announced that family and friends would be allowed to meet up in person over a limited number of days by forming a three-household bubble, reveals nearly three-in-10 (28%) fewer drivers are planning to use major roads to visit friends or family this year compared to last.

In total, more than half (57%) aren’t planning on visiting friends or family by car at all, of which 22% cite concerns about coronavirus, with the remainder (35%) saying it is for other reasons.

RAC breakdown spokesman Rod Dennis said: “The pandemic looks set to have a profound effect on drivers’ plans to see family and friends at Christmas time this year.

“Despite the loosening of restrictions to allow people to meet up as part of ‘festive bubbles’, our figures suggest many drivers aren’t keen – with a fifth saying the coronavirus is the reason why they’re not travelling.

“That’s not to say the roads will be empty over Christmas. Our research indicates millions of leisure journeys on major motorways and A-roads will still be taken, with 23 December being the focus of what will be a much less pronounced Christmas ‘getaway’ than we’ve grown to expect.”

An estimated 5.3m trips to see family and friends will take place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day combined, roughly in line with other years – many of which will be local journeys.

The ‘coronavirus effect’ is most evident after Christmas Day when traffic is expected to tail off drastically – with drivers only planning an estimated 1.6m trips on Boxing Day, compared to previous years when there are usually 4.5m journeys. On Sunday 27 December just 933,000 trips are planned.

Add in the lighter traffic volumes this year as a result of continued home-working by many people, and the effect is likely to be fewer queues on the roads compared to previous years, says the RAC.

Traffic flows will also be eased thanks to the removal of 778 of miles of roadworks

The plan for the Christmas travel window, between December 23 and 27, also includes enhanced rail services, postponing and accelerating rail engineering works and cutting ticket charges.

The Government says it is also working closely with transport operators to establish priority areas for testing of workers, to maintain and maximise services.

However, separate research from the RAC suggests that private motorists will favour local trips this year, indicating problems with congestion may be more concentrated on smaller, town and city roads rather than major motorways.

Nearly six-in-10 (57%) expect their longest return trip to be no more than 50 miles in length, with a quarter (25%) saying it will be up to just 10 miles. Just over a quarter (27%) say their longest journey by car will be in excess of 100 miles.

Of drivers who will be using their cars for other purposes over Christmas, doing local grocery shopping is the top reason (82% of these drivers), followed by driving to go for a walk or get some exercise with people from the same household (41%).

Just one-in-five of these drivers (18%) plan on using a car to visit a town or city centre for last-minute Christmas shopping, with a slightly smaller proportion (15%) doing the same thing at an out-of-town retail centre.

How do the predicted number of leisure trips vary this year from previous years?

Date

Predicted trips by car, 2020

Average predicted trips by car, 2015-2019

23 December

3.1m

2.4m

Christmas Eve

2.8m

2.8m

Christmas Day

2.5m

2.6m

Boxing Day

1.6m

4.5m

27 December

933,000

2.9m


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