The RAC says this Christmas “could be the busiest getaway on the roads in five years” despite concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. In total, the organisation and data company Inrix estimate a total of 27 million leisure trips will be made by car between December 17 and Christmas Eve.

As many schools in England and Wales broke up on December 17, the RAC’s figures suggest 4.1 million car journeys will be made to see family and friends over the coming week. On Christmas Eve, some 5.3 million such journeys are expected, with the RAC christening the day ‘Frantic Festive Friday’.

Thursday, December 23, is expected to be the next busiest day, with roughly 4.1 million leisure trips expected. As a result, motorists who plan to travel on that day are being advised to set off early or postpone trips until after dark in a bid to miss the worst of the traffic.

Heavy traffic on wet British motorway at night

The traffic hotspots are expected to include the clockwise M60 near Manchester, the southbound M40 in Oxfordshire and the northern and western sections of the M25 around London. The single worst queue before Christmas is expected on the M25 between the junction for Gatwick Airport and the junction for the M40 on Thursday afternoon.

Despite all this, the RAC says concerns about the new Omicron variant of coronavirus mean 10 percent of drivers are still cutting out Christmas travel to avoid the virus. At the moment, the government has imposed few restrictions on travel for Christmas, but with a week to go, some are concerned further restrictions may be announced.

Evening traffic on the M1 motorway in Watford UK

“Despite the increasing prevalence of the Omicron Covid variant, our research shows that the vast majority of drivers are still determined to do Christmas properly this year – in sharp contrast to 12 months ago,” said RAC Breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis. “We’re expecting the biggest Christmas getaway for five years, including a ‘Frantic Festive Friday’ on Christmas Eve. But with overall traffic volumes in the run-up to the big day set to be down slightly on normal given the current ‘work from home’ guidance, there’s reason to hope there won’t be too many queues as millions get away to see friends and family.

“As well as adding to the traffic jams, just a single breakdown has the potential to ruin Christmas which is why we’re urging drivers to make sure their vehicles are ‘road ready’ before they set out. Spending a few minutes checking that tyres are in good condition and are properly inflated, and ensuring oil, coolant and screenwash levels are all correct can dramatically reduce the chances of running into problems – as our patrols will testify, it’s always time well spent.”