Upside of the downturn: rising fuel prices mean Easter travel chaos may be avoided


Record fuel prices, recession and rain could make the drive back home after the Easter break one of the quietest for years.

Tomorrow, the first working day after Easter, is traditionally a day to avoid for drivers with a loathing of traffic, but this year it promises to be a breeze. Fuel prices are one of the prime factors keeping drivers off the road, with many limiting the number of miles they drive because of the cost.

Petrol prices exceeded an average of £1.40 a litre on 23 March, and continued rising every day until last Thursday, when they were static for the first time in a month.

The recession is another factor that is keeping people off the roads, with job losses and pay freezes making household budgets much tighter and cars much less affordable.

The dull and wet weather kept people at home yesterday, in contrast to March's sunshine which caused an unseasonal exodus to beaches, and more of the same is likely for several days. Almost two-thirds of drivers are estimated to have cut back on their mileage and spending on fuel in recent months, and Michael Savage of the AA said that while travelling home after Easter "used to be hideous" it would be "nowhere near as bad" this year.

Vicki Burn, of the RAC, said: "We know from the high cost of fuel that people just can't afford to go out and about so much. This could be one of the quietest Easters."

In a study questioning the economic sense of bank holidays in the UK, the Centre for Economics and Business Research calculated that cancelling them would increase GDP by 1.3 per cent or about £19bn.

Gains in the hotel, restaurant, gardening and retail sectors were more than cancelled out by losses from offices, construction sites and factories, the study found.