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Forewarning: ‘Frantic Friday’

As early holiday-makers clash with last-day work commuters, Friday 22nd December is set to be the worst day for pre-Christmas traffic, but it’s nothing compared to Boxing Day on the 26th.

Averaging at 1.4 million getaways each day until Saturday 23rd, pre-Christmas traffic this week will add extra cars to the road. However, with up to 1.25 million leisure journeys on top of those leaving work, Friday 22nd is set to be the worst for pre-Christmas traffic, a study from the RAC Traffic Watch has revealed.

This leisure traffic is expected to build further on Saturday, with 1.53 million journeys estimated, which again rises on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself with 1.83 million journeys each day. Train closures will also affect this upturn in traffic, with likely disruption there are 260 engineering projects on the railway, as well as many mainlines partially shut while Network Rail carries out its biggest ever Christmas investment programme. Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “We know that our railway is up to 50% quieter than usual during the festive period so taking on and delivering these huge transformational schemes at this time of year minimises our impact on passengers.”

To make up the shortfall, coach operator National Express is running its largest ever Christmas schedule to meet increased demand from key locations such as Bournemouth, Cardiff, Leeds, Edinburgh, Portsmouth, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester, adding nearly 30,000 extra seats to services between Monday and 2nd January, with Christmas Day bookings up by almost a quarter on last year.

Regional bus providers across the country, including First Group, Go-Ahead, Stagecoach and Arriva, are all working on special service times across the Christmas period, with most operating a normal Sunday service on the 24th December, but with an earlier last bus time. Across the country, there are very few services running on Christmas Day, with some services still not running on Boxing Day, moving into Saturday service again from 27th-30th with a few earlier last bus times. Finally, many have another Sunday service with earlier last bus times on the 31st December, with many not running on the 1st January, 2018 – although there are a few exceptions. Normal service resumes from the 2nd January in most cases, but to be sure, we recommend you check your specific bus timetables online.

Highways England announced that 99% of England’s motorways and A-roads would be free of roadworks during the busy Christmas run, with a “roadways embargo” in place from 6am Friday until 12.01am on 2nd January. However, last-minute festive getaways could still keep traffic gridlocked. As RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis reminds drivers: “it only takes a single accident or breakdown in some locations to bring traffic grinding to a halt.”

11.5 million Festive getaway trips are scheduled before Christmas Day, with more congestion expected on Christmas Eve – where another 1.87 million separate leisure journeys made as families and friends make last-minute plans to spend time together. RAC Traffic Watch expects that this will be worst between 10am-2pm.

Schools have been breaking up since Friday, 15th December, however, as RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis adds: “As always, the message to drivers is to plan ahead and try to avoid peak times if you can.” Furthermore, he stressed the importance of checking over your vehicle before you travel: “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.”

Trips to friends, widespread football fixtures and shopping trips are likely to affect Boxing Day too, where a high concentration of traffic – with as many as 5.3 million separate journeys planned – will fill up the roads. In fact, with 17.5 million trips planned between Christmas and New Year, there are far more leisure trips than before Christmas.

So, unless you have no other option, travelling in any capacity over the Christmas period is probably not the best option. If you do have to travel, make sure you take a moment to prepare for the journey by checking over your car’s engine, battery and tyres, packing a warm blanket and some snacks for emergencies and making sure your phone is fully charged.

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