Late May bank holiday traffic warning from RAC

posted on 22/05/2024
Illuminous traffic

The RAC is warning that Friday is expected to be busiest day on UK roads over the late May bank holiday weekend. 

More than 20 million leisure journeys are expected to be made by car over the weekend as traffic returns close to 2019’s pre-pandemic levels, according to a new study of drivers’ getaway plans from the RAC and Inrix.

Analysis suggests the worst day to travel will be Friday (May 24) when more than 4m journeys are planned, with many schools also breaking up for half term.

Traffic volumes look set to remain consistently high throughout the long weekend as 3.7m trips are expected to take place on Saturday (May 25), while 3.4m journeys are anticipated on both Sunday (May 26) and bank holiday Monday (May 27).

With a further 5.7m leisure trips by car planned at some point throughout the long weekend, traffic could be at its worst since 2019, when more than 22m drivers hit the road during the same period – meaning the volume of getaways this year could reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “Our research suggests this weekend could be the busiest of the year so far on the roads, with millions of people embarking on getaway trips to make the most of the three days and, for those with school age children, the start of the half-term holiday.

“In fact, we’re looking at possible leisure traffic volumes returning to levels similar to what we last saw in 2019 before the coronavirus outbreak, as drivers’ desire to make the most of the UK increases.

“And, in those places where the warm spring sunshine makes its presence felt, the number of people deciding to get behind the wheel and head for the coast or countryside will only go up, swelling the overall volume of cars on the roads.”

The data also indicates that day trips are top of many drivers’ itineraries for the late May bank holiday, with 22% saying the main reason they will use their car will be for a day out with friends or family, while 8% intend to spend a day in the countryside or by the beach.

Staycations rank third on the list as 7% said they are planning a short break, while a smaller proportion (3%) are heading to an airport or ferry port over the long weekend. 

Traffic is predicted to build through the day on Friday, with transport analytics specialists Inrix advising motorists to delay their departures until 6pm to miss the worst of the queues when both commuter and leisure drivers are sharing the roads.

The M25 clockwise between J7 for the M23 and J21 for the M1 is expected to bear the brunt of the traffic with those travelling on this stretch suffering delays of more than an hour and a half in the late afternoon.

On Saturday, traffic is expected to peak between 3pm and 6pm, with motorists advised to start their journeys as early as possible in the day to be in with the best chance of avoiding traffic.

With day trips expected to be particularly popular, and even more so in those areas which see the best of the sun and warmth, Inrix is expecting routes from cities to coasts to have some of the worst delays as drivers head to the seaside.

In the middle of the day, the M5 southbound – a major holiday route – is likely to suffer major hold-ups with journeys on a 45-mile stretch between J16 north of Bristol and J25 for Taunton in Somerset expected to take over an hour longer than usual.

Elsewhere, snarl ups are also anticipated on Saturday afternoon on the M25 anticlockwise towards the M23, the A14 eastbound towards the east coast, as well as on the M3 and A34 that funnel large volumes of leisure traffic towards resorts on the south coast.

Meanwhile the clockwise M25 is expected to again be the busiest route for traffic at the end of the school half term on Friday 31 May, with journeys between the M23 and the M1 likely to nearly triple in duration to three hours.

Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at Inrix, said: “With near record number of travellers expected to be on the roads over the holiday period, drivers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major cities and towards the coasts.

“The best general advice to anyone spending time away from home this weekend is to travel as early or as late in the day as possible to avoid the worst delays.” 


'Working from car' warning

Nextbase is warning any drivers looking to beat the rush and set off early should make sure they can focus fully on the road and not on any work they need to get done before the weekend.

Head of road safety, Bryn Brooker, said: “A lot of people are cleverly taking advantage of new flexibilities around workplaces to get on their holidays earlier, working from their destination instead of home.

“Some stuck in traffic or eager to set out early might even be tempted to do a bit of ‘work from car’ - but this could easily see you fined for breaching the Highway Code.”

Alongside the dangers of making hands-free phone calls while behind the wheel, Brooker explained that those being driven long distances rather than driving themselves might feel freer to get some meetings done while in transit.

“Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a passenger having a call or two - but an extended conference call where the driver can hear the other voices too could distract the driver, which would breach Rule 148 of the Highway Code,” he said.

“Drivers need to do everything they can to remain alert and focused on the road - for their safety and that of their passengers.”


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