Leisure journeys will peak at 1.9 million on Christmas Eve, but 22 December is expected to see the worst delays as people driving home from work battle for road space with 1.25 million motorists visiting friends and family, according to RAC figures.
The worst hold-ups are expected to occur between 4pm and 8pm.
An estimated 11.5 million leisure trips will be made by car between 17 December and Christmas Eve, but this will be eclipsed by the 17.5 million between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day as people take advantage of post-Christmas sales at shops.
Driving will cost more this winter as rising fuel prices mean filling up a typical family petrol or diesel car is around £3 more expensive compared with 2016.
RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “Things tend to get worse on the last working day before Christmas, with 'Frantic Friday' this year falling on 22 December.
“We strongly urge drivers planning long journeys to avoid this day if they possibly can.
“We’re then expecting pre-Christmas leisure trips to peak on Christmas Eve, with getaway traffic combining with the inevitable dashes to the shops for last-minute Christmas presents.”
Almost 400 miles of roadworks will be lifted by Highways England to ease journeys.
The “roadworks embargo” will be in place on motorways and major A roads from 6am on Friday until 12.01am on 2 January.
But the number of cars on the road could be even higher than normal due to a series of strikes by rail workers which threatens to reduce services on a number of days throughout the festive period.
Some 260 engineering projects on the railway will also disrupt journeys.
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “We know that our railway is up to 50% quieter than usual during the festive period so taking on and delivering these huge transformational schemes at this time of year minimises our impact on passengers.”
Coach operator National Express is running its largest ever Christmas schedule to meet increased demand from key locations such as Bournemouth, Cardiff, Leeds, Edinburgh, Portsmouth, Bristol, Glasgow and Manchester.
It is adding nearly 30,000 extra seats to services between Monday and 2 January, with Christmas Day bookings up by almost a quarter on last year.
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