Thanks to the full range of strikes over the holiday season, Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas lyrics have never been so foreboding. “Head to toe in traffic, oh I have red lights all around…”
The AA’s grim prophecy for December 23-24 is that there will be 45 million cars on major roads, leading to widespread traffic congestion. Added to this is the fact that this is the first Covid-free Christmas in three years, so more people are likely to travel.
Meanwhile, Border Force agents, railway workers and trunk road staff are all set to strike next week, leading the AA to issue an orange traffic alert and warn of a ” perfect storm” for motorists.
An additional 600,000 to 900,000 passengers would normally travel by train on the Friday before Christmas, when December 25 falls on a weekend. But the RMT strikes put an end to that.
Trains will be canceled or severely disrupted from December 24-27 and, although there is no strike scheduled for Friday 23rd, services are still expected to be impacted due to a surge in demand. Many of these additional passengers will be on the road.
“With all of these factors coming together and the way Christmas falls, this could potentially be the greatest Christmas getaway ever,” Edmund King, AA president, told The Telegraph. “Some days you have state highway officials on strike and they deal with the signs on the highways. If you don’t have signs of delays and collisions, it could lead to more congestion.
In the face of all this, Chris Rea’s sweet, melodious optimism might seem a bit out of reach (especially if you have kids, pets, or parents in tow). Here’s how to get home not just safe and sound, but with gifts wrapped and sanity intact.
Time your trip
If possible, drivers should travel earlier this week rather than waiting for the weekend frenzy.
“We expect there to be 17 million journeys on Friday and Saturday, and traffic forecasts show it will be at its worst between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday,” says Sean Sidley, AA Highway Patroller and AA Patrol of the Year. “Get there as early as possible to try to avoid getting caught.”
Even though traffic will be worse on Friday the 23rd, Sidley suggests leaving as long as possible for your trip rather than waiting to leave after the 6 p.m. peak.
Unsurprisingly, he recommends the AA’s route planner app as the best way to plot your trip. It allows you to bypass accidents, tolls or highways and offers regular (if not to the second) traffic updates.
RAC offers a similar app and online route planner, but Simon Williams, an RAC spokesperson, also suggests ‘old school route planning’. “Look at the map and see if there is an alternate route you could take to avoid any likely pinch points.”
If you can’t travel earlier in the week, Williams suggests heading out early on Christmas morning. “You’d have a reasonable chance of a good trip without the trucks and commuter traffic.”
Store your car
Provided there’s room in the trunk after you’ve filled it with presents, pets, and the Christmas turkey, there are other essentials to store for a long trip.
King suggests “water, high-protein foods or chocolate, warm clothes, coats, and a high-visibility jacket” as well as a shovel, thermos of tea, sturdy shoes, a blanket, and a torch with spare batteries in case of failure. A portable charger is another essential.
It is also important to check your car before setting off, including headlights, fuel levels or EV charge level and tire tread depth, which should be at least 3mm in winter .
Checking your seat position or “driving ergonomics” can also be beneficial before a long drive. The RAC’s riding position guide states that your hips should be as high as your knees, the head restraint should be parallel to the top of your head and, if possible, your seat’s lumbar support should fill comfortably. the arch of your back to minimize the lower back. pain.
How to entertain kids (and adults)
According to Georgina Durrant, author of 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play, now is not the time to feel guilty about screens if you have kids – an iPad or tablet will come in very handy indeed.
“A little screen time for passengers stuck in traffic won’t hurt anyone,” she says. “Make sure you’ve downloaded some programs to the tablet beforehand so you don’t have to rely on nonexistent Wi-Fi.
“Otherwise, audiobooks are a fantastic way to keep kids (and adults) entertained on long journeys; there are a few subscription services, or you can borrow them from the local library.
There are plenty of great analog games too (not just endless rounds of I-Spy). “Our favorite is Number Plate Maths,” says Durrant. “All you have to do is read the numbers on a car’s license plate and add them up. See who can find a car with a plate that makes the highest number. We also like “Guess The Song” where you play the first few seconds of a song and passengers have to guess which one it is.
“I wouldn’t recommend any small or tedious toys; the last thing you want to do is try to find a lost part stuck behind a car seat,” she says. “There are some great organizers that clip into the back of the front seats for kids to keep their toys in, which can help with that.” For lack of everything else, a supply of snacks, candies and chocolate will solve the tantrums of children and adults.
How to avoid roadworks
900 miles of roadworks are being removed by the National Highways to ease congestion over Christmas, meaning 98% of highways and major A-roads will be free of roadworks from Tuesday December 20 to Tuesday January 3. Sidley says it will make a “huge difference,” as driver misdirection and reduced speed limits during roadworks contribute to delays.
However, transport analysis company Inrix still claims that the average journey time will be 14% longer. It is however possible to plan your trip around specific traffic pinch points; sections of the M25, the M60 near Manchester, the M6 in the North West and the M40 in Oxfordshire have been singled out as the main culprits for the traffic jams. The National Highways Traffic England website is the most trusted source for live updates.