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Christmas travel advice 2018

Driving home for Christmas

Almost 19 million drivers will be travelling on main roads and motorways on Friday which is expected to be the busiest day for traffic this holiday period

10 December 2018

Friday 21 December will be the busiest on the roads this festive season, as the Christmas getaway from work and school combines with last minute shopping traffic, according to the AA. 

A recent AA-Populus poll of 20,410 AA members* found that:

  • 59% expect to drive on main roads and motorways on Friday – close to 19 million drivers.
  • Northern Ireland is set to have the busiest roads, with 72% of AA members there saying they will be making a significant journey by car on Friday 21 December.
  • London is least likely to suffer from an early Christmas traffic surge on Friday, as just over half (51%) will be using their car for a journey involving main roads or motorways. 

An AA patrol van driving in snow

Drowsy Driving at Christmas

The AA Charitable Trust has issued advice to help drivers combat festive fatigue at the wheel as part of its Drowsy Driver campaign

The campaign, which includes a hard-hitting online advert, created by the makers of the John Lewis Christmas advert, encourages drivers to be aware of the sensation of sleep creeping up on them.  

If drivers do feel sleepy they should stop at the next safe place, have two cups of coffee (or equivalent caffeinated drink) and a short nap of about 20 minutes before continuing their journey. 

Edmund King, Director of the AA Charitable Trust, said: “Driving home for Christmas can be one of the nicest drives of the year; the anticipation, the festive songs and treats all add to the atmosphere. 

Driving home for Christmas can be one of the nicest drives of the year; the anticipation, the festive songs and treats all add to the atmosphere
Edmund King, president of the AA

“But it’s also a busy time of year and can often leave you feeling more tired than usual.

“As well as ensuring your car is fully prepared for your festive journeys, it’s important the driver is also prepared.

"Plan your journey to include regular breaks to minimise tiredness, try and get a good night’s sleep the night before a long drive and, if you do feel tiredness creeping up on you when driving, stop and take a break.” 

Driving home for Christmas
  • Saturday 22 December – more than half (53%) of drivers will be making journeys on Saturday as last minute shopping traffic combines with trips to sporting events and visits to friends and family.
  • Sunday 23 December – should be quieter by comparison, with only 45% driving on main roads or motorways. 
  • Monday 24 December – Half of drivers will be making festive journeys on Christmas eve, when reduced commuter traffic will to some extent be offset by increased leisure traffic, with more than one in five (23%) visiting family and friends. 
  • Tuesday 25 December  – Christmas day is typically one of the quietest of the year for both traffic and breakdowns. Nevertheless, last year, the AA helped rescue Christmas for just over 2,700 members who were unfortunate enough to break down on Christmas day. This year, just over a third (35%) of drivers say they will be making a journey on Christmas day – equating to around 11.2 million.

Young drivers are the most likely to be driving to visit friends and family in the run-up to Christmas. Their busiest days for travelling are Christmas Day (42%), Christmas Eve (41%) and Sunday 23 December (32%). 

Getaway advice

George Flinton, AA breakdown patrol of the Year, said: “We want drivers to keep their festive spirit alive when they are driving this Christmas and the best way to ensure hassle-free journeys is to plan them well. 

Check the traffic reports before you go and try to travel when it’s quieter if you can or consider an alternative route to beat the jams
George Flinton, AA patrol of the Year

“Christmas falling on a Tuesday may help to spread festive journeys out - but it also means more days of traffic as the getaway from work on Friday is followed by last minute shopping traffic on Saturday and visits to friends and family on Sunday.

“It’s likely to be very busy at peak times on the major routes. Check the traffic reports before you go and try to travel when it’s quieter if you can or consider an alternative route to beat the jams.”

He added: “Drivers can help avoid a breakdown this Christmas by performing basic checks on their car before any long journey. This includes topping up the windscreen wash and anti-freeze, checking your lights and adjusting tyre pressures for a full load if necessary. 

“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.”

Christmas shopping

Shopping and day trip traffic will peak on Saturday (22 December), with 29% of respondents heading out on main roads or motorways for some retail therapy. 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. 

George added: “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.

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
George Flinton, 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.”

Post-Christmas queues

While quieter, the roads won’t be completely deserted on Christmas Day, with more than a third (35%) of respondents likely to be out on main roads or motorways. 

Relatively few plan to brave the high street sales on Boxing day, with just 8% heading out to the shops. By comparison, more than a quarter (28%) of drivers will be visiting family or friends on boxing day.

After the bank holidays, the traffic will begin to pick up as around a fifth (15%) head into work on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th.

Things quieten down again over New Year before the big return to work on January 2nd when a quarter (25%) of drivers will be on our busiest roads heading to work. 

Bank holiday getaway preparation advice
  • Plan your route in advance and allow plenty of time for the journey.
  • Check local traffic and weather reports.
  • Travel when the roads are quieter.
  • If tired, stop and drink two cups of coffee or other caffeinated drink and take a short nap of around 15-20 minutes.
  • As one of their AA Rewards, personal AA members get up to 20% off food and drink at Moto service areas when they show their membership card.
  • Check oil, antifreeze and windscreen wash levels, lights and tyre pressure (check when tyres are cold and increase pressure for heavy loads if necessary) and tread depth – not forgetting the spare – before hitting the road.
  • Pack the car safely being careful not to overload or obstruct vision.
  • Carry the essentials in case of a delay or breakdown, including personal medication, warm/ waterproof layers, food and water, a torch, a fully charged mobile phone and an atlas or sat-nav.
  • Plan car games to keep children comfortable and happy throughout the journey.
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 2017, they came to the aid of over 2,700 members on Christmas Day; and this year, hundreds of patrols and call handlers will work on Christmas Day. 

The AA app

The AA app allows you to report and track a breakdown, so we know your breakdown 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

* Populus received 20,410 responses from AA members to its online poll between 13 and 19 November 2018.


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