Christmas traffic predicted to be ‘busiest in five years’

Published 17 December 2021

This Christmas could be the busiest getaway in five years, with an estimated 27 million trips by car predicted between today (17 December) and Christmas Eve (24 December), a study by the RAC and transportation analytics provider INRIX suggests. 

The survey of 1,400 UK motorists suggests that Christmas Eve will be the busiest day for traffic, with 5.3m journeys, followed by Thursday (23 December) with 4.1m journeys.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (20, 21 and 22 December) are each predicted to see 3.7m journeys.

Drivers are likely to face delays on the clockwise M60 near Manchester, the southbound M40 in Oxfordshire and the northern and western sections of the M25.

M4 Motorway

The single worst queue before Christmas is expected on the M25 between the junction for Gatwick Airport and the junction for the M40 on Thursday afternoon.

Christmas Day (25 December), Boxing Day (26 December) and the Monday bank holiday (27 December) could all turn out to be busier than normal for leisure trips this year – with around 4.5m journeys a day by car taken to see friends and family, compared to the average of around 3.5m for the same period since 2015(excluding 2020 research, which was affected by the Covid-19 travel restrictions). 

INRIX also predicts some lengthy jams – delays of more than 45 minutes on the clockwise M25 between Gatwick and the M40 on Boxing Day, and of 80 minutes on the same stretch the following day.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “Despite the increasing prevalence of the Omicron Covid variant, our research shows that the vast majority of drivers are still determined to do Christmas properly this year – in sharp contrast to 12 months ago.

Driving (6) 

"We’re expecting the biggest Christmas getaway for five years, including a ‘Frantic Festive Friday’ on Christmas Eve.

"But with overall traffic volumes in the run-up to the big day set to be down slightly on normal given the current ‘work from home’ guidance, there’s reason to hope there won’t be too many queues as millions get away to see friends and family."

RAC's research found that one in 10 drivers (10 per cent) don’t plan on travelling by car at all over Christmas because of the pandemic. 

When is the best time to travel?

Drivers are advised to set off early or postpone their trips until after dark to avoid the worst of the traffic.


Leisure trips by car

Times major roads likely to be particularly busy

Times major roads likely to be less busy 

Major road expected to be subject to longest delay (excludes impact of any unplanned breakdowns or collisions)

Monday 20 December


3pm to 6.30pm

Before 1pm

M60 clockwise J7 to J18, late afternoon

Tuesday 21 December


4pm to 5pm

Before 8am

M6 north J5 to J10a, early evening

Wednesday 22 December


12pm to 3pm

After 5pm

M40 south J11 to J9, middle of the day

Thursday 23 December


12pm to 4pm

After 6pm

M25 clockwise J7 to J16, middle of the day

Friday 24 December 


11am to 2pm

After 6pm

A303 West Solstice Park to A36, middle of the day

Data sources: INRIX & RAC

What roadworks are planned for Christmas 2021?

National Highways, which manages England's motorways and major A roads, is removing more than 900 miles of roadworks ahead of the Christmas getaway. 

This means nearly 98 per cent of motorways and major A roads will be roadworks-free from 6am Tuesday, 21 December until 12.01am on Tuesday, 4 January.

The M42 will be fully closed between junctions 9 and 10 for HS2 works over the festive period.

HS2 will be carrying out work between junctions 9 (Dunton Interchange) and Junction 10 (Tamworth Interchange) to prepare the ground for movement of the Marston Box bridge in Winter 2022.

Marston Box is the bridge that will carry the HS2 line across the M42 Motorway near Junction 9, north of Lea Marston and Curdworth in North Warwickshire.

To ensure the safety of the workforce, the road will be fully closed from 9pm on Friday 24, December (Christmas Eve) to 9pm on Friday, 31 December 2021 (New Year’s Eve).

A diversion route will be in place during the closure.


What vehicle checks should I do before a journey?

Before setting off for a long journey, carry out these five checks:

  1. Fuel level:have you got enough to reach your destination?
  2. Tyres: are they all at the correct pressure? Are there are signs wear and tear? Use a tyre gauge to make sure they have at least the legal minimum tread depth of 1.6mm. 
  3. Engine oil: does it need topping up? 
  4. Water: have you got enough screenwash? 
  5. Lights: are your brake lights, reverse lights, hazard lights, headlights and fog lights all working properly?

How do I drive in bad weather?

Driving in bad weather is sometimes unavoidable so we've put together a number of handy guides to help you stay safe on the roads. 

>>>How to drive in heavy rain

>>>How to drive in snow

>>>How to drive in fog



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