13 million drivers on the road this Friday

Christmas 2017 travel advice

Friday 22 December will be the busiest on the roads this festive season as the get-away from work combines with last minute shopping traffic

15 December 2017

A recent AA-Populus poll of 18,547 AA members* found that 40 per cent expect to drive over 20 miles on Friday – equating to around 13 million drivers. 

  • Northern Ireland is set to have the busiest roads with 48% of AA members there saying they will do significant festive mileage on Friday 22 December.
  • Wales follows with 47% and the North East is close behind, with 46% of AA members there driving 20 miles or more.
  • London is least likely to suffer from an early Christmas traffic surge on Friday, as just over a third (34%) will cover that distance by car.

But those heading from North to South for the Liverpool v Arsenal Premier League match will need to allow extra time for the journey as train strikes on Friday force more football fans to take to the road.

Freezing car in winter

Driving home for Christmas

Despite Friday being the busiest day, holiday traffic is expected to begin from Wednesday (20) according to INRIX, who predict the worst delays over the festive period could exceed four hours as drivers try to beat the queues and retailers send out their last deliveries.

More than a third (35%) of drivers will be travelling over 20 miles on Saturday (23 December) and over a quarter (27%) on Christmas eve, according to the AA-Populus poll.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger generations are the most likely to be driving ‘home’ for Christmas, with more than a quarter of those between 18 and 34 packing up the car to visit friends and family over 20 miles away, as well as over a fifth of 35-44 year olds.

Getaway advice

Vince Crane, AA patrol of the year, says: “With Christmas falling on a Monday, many drivers may hope that journeys would be spread across the weekend - but it means more days of traffic as the getaway from work on Friday is followed by the last major shopping opportunity on Saturday and visits to friends and family on Sunday.”

He added: “On Friday, it’s likely to be very busy at peak times on the major routes. Check the traffic reports before you leave and try to travel when it’s quieter or, if you have no choice, consider an alternative route to beat the jams. 

“Anything can happen, so don’t forget to do the basic checks on your car before heading off to avoid a breakdown interrupting your Christmas plans. This includes topping up the windscreen wash and anti-freeze, checking your lights and adjusting tyre pressures for a full load if necessary. 

Anything can happen, so don’t forget to do the basic checks on your car before heading off to avoid a breakdown interrupting your Christmas plans
Vince Crane, AA patrol of the year

“Along with the Christmas presents, make sure you pack the essentials for your trip including extra warm and waterproof layers, food, water, a torch, fully-charged mobile (with the AA app pre-loaded) and an atlas or sat-nav in case of any unexpected diversions. If you’re travelling with children, take plenty of things to keep them entertained and try to break up any journey more than three hours long.”

Christmas shopping

Shopping traffic will peak on Saturday (23 December), with 17 per cent of respondents driving over 20 miles for a shopping trip. The AA advises drivers to leave early to beat the queues and use park and ride facilities where possible. The AA app can also help drivers to find available car park spaces and set a parking timer.

Vince adds: “If you’re doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, many retailers will be happy to let you leave your items to collect later, rather than make repeated trips back to your car – thieves love Christmas and thefts of items from cars also rises in December.

Thieves love Christmas and thefts of items from cars also rises in December
Vince Crane, AA patrol of the year

“Before leaving your car, remember to take any valuables with you and never leave shopping bags on show. It’s a good idea to keep receipts separate so that, if the worst should happen, you have a record of what is missing. Always check that the car is locked before walking away.”

Always check that the car is locked before walking away
Vince Crane, AA patrol of the year
Post-Christmas queues

While quieter, the roads won’t be completely deserted on Christmas Day, with more than a fifth (21%) of respondents likely to drive over 20 miles. Around a fifth (19%) will cover at least that distance seeing family or friends on Boxing Day compared to braving the sales (6%).

After the bank holidays though, Wednesday (27 December) will be extremely busy as more than a third (35%) get back on the road, with one in ten heading back to work, the same number looking to take advantage of end of year sales and 12% planning to visit friends and family.

INRIX are also predicting significant delays on Wednesday (27 December), with the worst affected stretches of motorway seeing three hour delays and high traffic volumes expected around the M25.


Highways England is removing almost 400 miles of roadworks from motorways and major roads across the country, to help Christmas trips go smoothly.

Christmas Day breakdowns

Although it’s by far the quietest day of the year for car breakdowns, AA patrols across the country will be working on Christmas Day to rescue those in trouble. 

  • In 2016, they came to the aid of over 2,600 members on Christmas Day
  • This year, hundreds of patrols and call handlers will work on Christmas Day
  • Further patrols will be on standby ready to forgo Christmas festivities if required
The AA app

The AA app allows you to report and track a breakdown, so we know your location and you know when the patrol will arrive. It includes the popular AA route planner and traffic updates, as well as vehicle reminders for MOT, tax, insurance and service dates. Other enhanced features for AA members include a fuel price checker, parking-space finder and comprehensive guide to dashboard warning lights.

* Populus received 18,547 responses from AA members to its online poll between 14th and 21st November 2017. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.