How to survive the Christmas holiday traffic rush

Christmas is just around the corner, and if you're planning on visiting family, What Car? can help you to avoid the worst of the traffic stress

Words ByDarren Moss

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Over the next few days, millions of people will take to the roads to visit family. And, inveitably, the increased number of cars on the road will lead to traffic jams, longer journey times and stress.

Fortunately, by planning your route carefully and being prepared, you can minimise the pain of travelling at this busy time of year. To help, What Car? has prepared this guide to surviving the Christmas rush.

1. Plan your route, and plan your time

The most important step is preparation. Firstly, ask yourself if it’s necessary to travel during peak times. If you can travel either early in the morning or late at night, then you’ll miss the majority of the traffic.

There are plenty of helpful websites out there to help plan your route, with dedicated sites for Traffic England, Traffic Wales, Traffic Scotland and Traffic Northern Ireland all listing current events and incidents that might affect your route.

Most modern satellite-navigation systems will also be able to detect if there is traffic on your route, and offer detours, but it’s also worth having a map in the car.

If you’re travelling abroad, build in extra time for your trip to account for delays.

2. Avoid the busiest roads where possible

It’s no surprise that some of the UK’s most popular motorways and road networks will be busier than normal at this time of year, and particularly at peak times.

The roads most likely to be affected by extra traffic mostly lead towards tourist destinations such as beaches and the Lake District, but also include links to transport hubs, including airports, the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar.

Motorways most likely to be affected by the holiday traffic surge include the M25 around London, the M23 in Surrey, the M55 between Preston and Blackpool, and the M5/M4 interchange near Bristol.

3. Use your radio’s traffic announcement function, or use an app

If you don’t have a sat-nav system that can warn you of delays, you can still keep abreast of traffic on your route by using the TA/TP or Traffic function of your radio; this will automatically switch the station whenever a traffic announcement is being played.

Alternatively, there are several smartphone apps that you can download to alert you to traffic in your local area. Examples of these apps include Inrix Traffic, Waze and Mapkin, while official apps from Google and The AA also provide live traffic updates.

4. Take a break

The Highway Code recommends that you take a break from driving for at least 15 minutes every two hours. There are plenty of motorway service stations that offer respite areas and refuelling spots, but you can also search online for less expensive restaurants and petrol stations away from the motorway. Alternatively, take a packed lunch and stop in a scenic location for a picnic.

The National Trust's website contains a list of scenic stop-off locations close to major transport routes, which you can find here.

5. Keep passengers entertained

If you do end up in a traffic jam, and you’ve got children on board, then make sure you’ve got enough drinks, snacks and games to keep them entertained. A portable DVD player, tablet computer or laptop can easily keep children occupied watching films and TV programmes, and you can also take miniature versions of board games especially designed for the car.

Children’s website Mintime also has a list of free games you can play with your children in the car, which you can find here, but classics like I Spy, 20 Questions and Hangman are always a safe bet.

6. Prepare your car

The last thing anyone wants is to break down in the middle of a holiday car journey, so take the time before you leave to carry out these basic vehicle checks:

  • Make sure your oil and coolant are topped up to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels
  • Check your tyre pressures and pump them up if necessary, and check the tread depth
  • Check your wiper blades for wear and replace if necessary, and clean them
  • Operate your headlights, indicators and brake lights and check they work

7. And, if the worst happens…

If you do end up at the side of the road with a broken-down car, then you’ll want to call out a breakdown rescue service. You can eliminate a lot of the time (and cost) by signing up for breakdown cover before you travel.

You can buy breakdown cover from as little as Β£15 per year, and more expensive policies can also cover your onward travel costs and cover you in Europe as well. Read What Car?’s full guide to breakdown cover here.

Read more – What Car?'s guide to winter driving

Read more – What to do if you break down on the motorway

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