Christmas traffic 2021

Almost 18 million to hit the roads as pre-pandemic traffic predicted

23 December and Christmas Eve the busiest days for travel

8 December 2021

The AA is predicting pre-pandemic levels of traffic over the Christmas period with 17.8 million cars1 expected to travel on 23 December and Christmas Eve, causing lengthy jams at traffic hotspots.

A survey of more than 15,000 drivers found that more than two fifths (44%2) have already made plans to drive this Christmas, with a further 17% yet to make a decision.

All play with some work

Of those that are driving, almost a third plan to do so for work on Thursday 16 December (31%) and Friday 17 December (28%), after which business based travel drops until the New Year.

More than a quarter (27%) say they are driving to do their Christmas shopping on Saturday 18 December. As the last Saturday before Christmas, many High Streets, retail outlets and shopping centres will be hopeful of a festive selling spree before the big day.

For many it will be a case of making up for a cancelled Christmas last year. This year the main days for celebrating with friends and family will be Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. While 25 December will be one of the quietest days on the road, of those driving 40% will be meeting up with their loved ones.

It’s a bumper-to-bumper Christmas
Edmund King, AA president

AA Christmas travel predictions, 2021

Date Thu 16 December Fri 17 December Sat 18 December Sun 19 December Mon 20 December Tue 21 December Wed 22 December
% Travelling 52% 52% 50% 42% 48% 49% 50%
Est. cars on the road 17,184,897 17,184,897 16,523,940 13,880,109 15,862,982 16,193,461 16,523,940

Date Thu 23 December Fri 24 December Sat 25 December Sun 26 December Mon 27 December Tue 28 December Wed 29 December
% Travelling 54% 54% 44% 46% 43% 38% 8%
Est. cars on the road 17,845,855 17,845,855 14,541,067 15,202,024 14,210,588 12,558,194 12,558,194

Date Thu 30 December Fri 31 December Sat 1 January Sun 2 January Mon 3 January
% Travelling 38% 40% 27% 29% 33%
Est. cars on the road 12,558,194 13,219,152 8,922,927 9,583,885 10,905,800
‘Top to toe in tailbacks, Oh I got red lights all around’

Delays to journey times on some stretches of motorway including the M25, the M5 between Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare and the M6 around Birmingham. In addition stretches of the M1 ‘smart’ motorway from Luton northwards can often suffer congestion from incidents or breakdowns, as can the M62 and M60 in the North West. Both the M4 and the M27 are also set to suffer from significant delays.

As covid related nervousness continues to hamper confidence in public transport use3, coupled with possible engineering works on many lines across the country4, this may lure more drivers onto the road.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “It’s a bumper-to-bumper Christmas this year as people want to make up for lost time. Providing there are no formal restrictions in travel or socialising, millions are ready to spend time with their friends and family.

“While the 23 December and Christmas Eve look set to be the busiest travelling days, the change in working practices with increased home working, means we could see a spread of traffic across these days rather than a chaotic evening rush.

“Many breakdowns are preventable, so checking your vehicle before you set off is very important. Tyres, fuel, EV range and oil levels, coolant and screenwash checks should be made as a minimum. Likewise keeping water, high protein food or chocolate, warm clothes, coats and a hi-viz jacket will help keep you going should the worst happen5.

“Our five star patrols6 will be working throughout the holidays to help fix cars that suffer, while providing assistance to drivers, regardless of their insurer, should they be involved in a crash7. As well as providing up to the minute traffic information, our app allows people to book and track a patrol8, a bit like the Santa Tracker9 children use on Christmas Eve.

“New Years Day will be the quietest day on the roads which is probably a good thing especially if drivers have been partying the previous evening. Drivers can still be breathalysed and lose their licence for driving over the limit the morning after. So remember if you are going to drive, don’t drink, and if you are going to drink, don’t drive.”

1. VEH0101 stats show 33,047,879 licenced cars on the road in Q2 2021.
2. AA Yonder Driver Poll, November 2021. 15,355 respondents