Christmas road traffic predicted to half in 2020

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The roads are set to be much quieter over the Christmas period, according to an early prediction from the AA.

Far fewer motorists intend to drive this year, despite the five days of freedom to allow families to get together to celebrate, a poll from the motoring group which measures traffic levels and predicts journey volumes suggests. 

It estimates just 24 per cent of drivers are planning a trip in their car between 18 December and 4 January, which equates to just 7.9million motorists. 

Last year, it says around 17million people hit the road over the same period, or more than double that figure.

Not driving home for Christmas: AA made an early prediction that half as many drivers intend to hit the road in their cars this year compared to last between 18 December and 4 January

Not driving home for Christmas: AA made an early prediction that half as many drivers intend to hit the road in their cars this year compared to last between 18 December and 4 January

The predictions come after a comprehensive survey by the AA. It was completed by 16,486 licence holders in November.

Nearly half of drivers said they are not planning a car journey over the festive season whatsoever.

However, 29 per cent said they were undecided and may be tempted to head out onto the roads for the festive days of freedom from tiered restrictions, operating from 23 to 27 December. 

Others said they will wait to see how any changes to tiers will be reviewed on 16 December and the impact on them and their proposed bubbles before making a final decision about travelling to spend the festive season with friends and family.  

For the 24 per cent of drivers who said they are planning a journey by car over the five-day restriction break for Christmas, almost half will be travelling on Christmas Eve, making this – unsurprisingly – the busiest day on the roads this month. 

How many car journeys are estimated to take place during five-day Covid tier restriction break? 

23 December: 3.5 million

24 December: 3.8 million

25 December: 3.2 million

26 December: 3.1 million

27 December: 2.6 million

Source: AA poll of 16,486 drivers

Based on the poll’s findings, some 3.8million journeys are expected to be made on 24 December.

Across the five-day Christmas exemption from the tiered system, a total of 16.1million journeys will be made by those who are planning to drive for return or multiple trips.  

The AA has also predicted that Saturday 19 December will be the busiest day for shopping traffic, with a fifth of drivers estimated to hit the high street to get their final items for Christmas dinner and gifts for loved ones. 

However, the motoring group’s traffic division say congestion could level out for those in lower-tier areas, or if more people take the chance to pick up last-minute gifts when restrictions lift on 23 December.

While a more detailed report on locations with the most traffic will be revealed closer to Christmas week, the AA said hotspots are most likely to form around shopping centres close to motorways, such as the M5 for Cribbs Causeway in Bristol, M25 for Blue Water and the M60 junction 10 for the Trafford Centre. 

That said, cancelled Christmas markets could mean less traffic going into towns and city centres. 

Christmas Eve is predicted to be the busiest day for traffic, though the AA estimates that fewer than 4million cars will be on the road that day

Christmas Eve is predicted to be the busiest day for traffic, though the AA estimates that fewer than 4million cars will be on the road that day

Edmund King, AA president, commented: ‘The question will be “should I stay, or should I go?” as families weigh up Christmas over Covid.

‘Two fifths of drivers who had already cancelled travel plans may still be wary of risk to their loved ones, or unable to choose who to include in their small Christmas bubble.

‘With a review of tiers due on 16 December, some could leave it late to make their final decision.

‘But the 28 per cent who felt it’s even more important to share the season with friends and family this year, are likely to embrace the gift of some restrictions being lifted.’

Mr King said their data suggest Britons are more likely to stay local this Christmas and has urged councils to remove as many roadworks as possible to help ease the flow of local traffic.

‘We welcome efforts by Highways England to remove some 750 miles of roadworks on main roads and motorways,’ he added.

‘On balance, despite the reduced use of public transport and the five days of festive freedom, we don’t predict a total free for all on the roads… more “driving home for Christmas” than “road to hell” as Chris Rea sang.’  

The AA has also warned drivers to take extra care to check their vehicles are in working order, given that many would have used their cars far less than usual this year due to the pandemic and many working from home. 

Ben Sheridan, AA Patrol of the Year, suggested: ‘A few basic checks can help avoid a Christmas breakdown; this includes ensuring you have enough fuel and all the lights are working, checking the engine oil level and topping up the windscreen washer fluid and anti-freeze. 

‘Crucially, check the tyre condition, pressures and tread depth for winter driving.

‘Before starting the car, make sure there’s nothing nesting under the bonnet which might have caused damage to pipes or hoses. 

‘If your car has been standing unused for a long time, it’s a good idea to arrange a full service once you’re ready to use it again.’ 

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