Warning over bank holiday traffic delays as busiest weekend since pandemic expected

Research shows the best times to get behind the wheel – and when to stay off the roads

Benjamin Parker
Saturday 25 May 2024 12:39 BST
The AA believes that half of UK drivers will be on the road at some point over the bank holiday weekend
The AA believes that half of UK drivers will be on the road at some point over the bank holiday weekend (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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Drivers are likely to face severe congestion at the weekend, with this year’s late May bank holiday set to be the busiest on the roads since beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 20 million “leisure trips” will be made by car between Friday and Monday, the RAC predicts, while The AA says that more than half of the drivers in the UK will be on the road at some point over that period.

Its research suggests that the worst day to travel will be Friday 24 May as four million journeys are planned, with the long weekend coinciding with the start of the half-term break for UK schools.

And the RAC is warning that traffic could be at its worst since the same weekend in 2019, when over 22 million drivers took to the road.

Traffic volume looks set to remain consistently high throughout the period, with 3.7 million trips expected to take place on Saturday 25 May, while 3.4 million journeys are anticipated on both Sunday and bank holiday Monday.

Day trips are the main reason drivers will be getting in their car over the weekend, with 22 per cent stating that they’ll use their car for a day out with friends or family. Others intend to spend a day in the countryside or by the beach (8 per cent), while staycations are the reason for getting behind the wheel for 7 per cent of those questioned by the RAC.

When you take your journey can determine if you’ll be stuck in traffic
When you take your journey can determine if you’ll be stuck in traffic (Getty Images)

Separate research by The AA shows that the vast majority of drivers are yet to decide on their destination. However, it anticipates that “coastal destinations and theme parks” will be “very busy”.

Fans heading to Wembley for the FA Cup final on Saturday or the Championship play-off final on Sunday are being advised to check their journey, with the routes from the north (including the M1 and M6) and the M3 from the south expected to be busier than usual.

Traffic is predicted to build throughout the day on Friday, with transport analytics specialists Inrix advising motorists to delay their departures until 6pm to miss the worst of the queues when both commuter and leisure drivers are sharing the roads.

The M25 clockwise between junction 7 for the M23 and junction 21 for the M1 is expected to bear the brunt of the traffic – those travelling on this stretch suffering delays of more than an hour and a half in the late afternoon.

On Saturday, traffic is expected to peak between 3pm and 6pm. Inrix says it is expecting routes from cities to coasts to have some of the worst delays as drivers head to the seaside.

In the middle of the day, the M5 southbound – a major holiday route – is likely to suffer major hold-ups with journeys on a 45-mile stretch between J16 north of Bristol and J25 for Taunton in Somerset expected to take over an hour longer than usual.

On Saturday afternoon, snarl ups are anticipated on the M25 anticlockwise towards the M23 and the A14 eastbound towards the east coast, as well as on the M3 and A34 that funnel large volumes of leisure traffic towards resorts on the south coast.

The clockwise M25 is expected to again be the busiest route for traffic at the end of the school half term on Friday 31 May, with journeys between the M23 and the M1 likely to nearly triple in duration to three hours.

“Our research suggests this weekend could be the busiest of the year so far on the roads, with millions of people embarking on getaway trips to make the most of the three days and, for those with school age children, the start of the half-term holiday,” said RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson.

She added: “In those places where the warm spring sunshine makes its presence felt, the number of people deciding to get behind the wheel and head for the coast or countryside will only go up, swelling the overall volume of cars on the roads.”

Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at Inrix, believes that “drivers should be prepared for long delays, especially in and around major cities and towards the coasts”.

“The best general advice to anyone spending time away from home this weekend is to travel as early or as late in the day as possible to avoid the worst delays,” he said.

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