The organisation has urged drivers to "think carefully" before using vehicles.

Car use remains as high as it was during the summer, despite the third coronavirus lockdown, the RAC has said. The motoring organisation says traffic volumes have reached similar levels to May 2020, when the first lockdown was relaxed, with more workers in ‘Covid-secure’ workplaces and more shops offering click-and-collect services.

According to data from RAC Insurance black boxes, an average of 10 percent more cars were in daily use during the first week of the third lockdown, which began on January 5, than during the first week of the spring lockdown. It’s a 22-percent drop compared with the first week of February 2020, before the first lockdown was imposed.

As a result, the RAC says traffic volumes are at a similar level to the middle of last May, when lockdown restrictions began to be eased and people were encouraged to return to work. However, it’s still below the level seen during the first full week of September, when the RAC recorded its highest levels of car use in 2020.

Traffic after sundown avoid road casualties

The RAC says yet more evidence of increased traffic can be found in the organisation’s breakdown statistics, with an “extremely high” number of breakdowns attended in 2021. The company had its busiest start to a new year, with eight percent more breakdowns handled than during the first four days of 2021 than during the same period in previous years.

“Despite the whole of the UK now under a further coronavirus lockdown, our data shows the number of cars in use has not dropped to the same extent it did the first time restrictions were brought in last March,” said RAC data insight spokesman Rod Dennis.

“The feel of this latest nationwide lockdown is very different to that which was first imposed in 2020 with greater numbers of people working in ‘Covid-secure’ workplaces, more shops offering click-and-collect services, and more children of key workers attending schools. In addition, with so many avoiding public transport, there will inevitably be far more people opting for the safer environment of the car. Together, these differences help account for the busier roads.

“Nonetheless, it’s vital drivers think carefully before using their vehicles and ensure they’re only venturing out for essential trips as specified by government guidelines. Every unnecessary journey increases the chances of a breakdown, or worse a road traffic collision, and risks adding to the pressures being experienced by our emergency and healthcare workers.

“Unfortunately, the return of colder weather from next week risks increasing the chances of drivers encountering breakdowns with flat batteries which we expect to cause people problems, especially if they’re hardly using their vehicles at the moment. Drivers can protect themselves by buying a trickle charger, although these are only really practical for people with driveways or garages and it’s always best to check compatibility between charger and car first. Those with two cars should make sure they alternate between them for their essential journeys.”

traffic on the M4 motorway near Cardiff