Top tips for surviving the May bank holiday traffic jams

The late May bank holiday is predicted to be the busiest for four years with 19.2 million car journeys planned. Follow our top tips to avoid the worst jams...

Traffic jam on the M1

Millions of drivers will take to the roads this late May bank holiday weekend, and that could mean lots of traffic and potential delays to thousands of journeys. 

In fact, breakdown provider the RAC says this bank holiday weekend could be the busiest since before the Coronavirus pandemic with an estimated 19.2 million individual road trips taken.

Friday is expected to be the worst day for traffic congestion, with 3.3 million people hitting the roads. However, the whole weekend is expected to be far busier than usual, with up to 3 million extra vehicles on the roads each day.  

If you want to beat the traffic, follow the tips below to help minimise the pain of travelling at this busy time. 

1. Plan your route, and plan your time

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

There are plenty of useful 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 sat-nav systems will also be able to detect if there's traffic on your route and offer detours, but it’s also worth having a physical map in the car just in case the technology fails you.

2. Avoid the busiest roads where possible

 The M25 London orbital motorway is expected to be a hotspot for traffic, with it taking up to three times longer than normal for cars to travel from J23 for Hatfield to J28 for Chelmsford, and along the anticlockwise carriageway towards the Dartford crossing. Delays are also expected on the M5 in Somerset and M6 in Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

So if possible, leave after the jams have died down. According to the RAC, the best time to travel over the long weekend is after 7pm. 

Traffic jam on the M25

3. Use your radio’s traffic announcement function or 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 car radio. This will automatically switch the station whenever a traffic announcement is being played.

Alternatively, there are several smartphone apps you can download to alert you to traffic in your local area, including Inrix Traffic, Waze, Google Maps and The AA. Just make sure your phone is secured in a holder or cradle if you're planning to use these, because you could get a penalty notice and large fine for using a handheld mobile phone while at the wheel of your car. 

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. 

English Heritage'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 have children on board, make sure you have enough drinks, snacks and games to keep them happy in case you get stuck in a traffic jam. A portable DVD player, tablet or laptop can help keep children occupied watching films and TV programmes, and you can also get miniature versions of board games specially designed for the car.

Children in child car seats

Children’s website Minitime 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 car's oil and coolant are topped up to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels
  • Check your tyre pressures and pump up the tyres – including the spare – if necessary, and check tyre tread depth
  • Clean your car's wiper blades and check them for wear; replace them if necessary
  • Turn on your car's headlights, indicators and brake lights and check that they all work

Car broken down at the side of the road

7. And if the worst happens…

If you do end up at the side of the road with a broken-down car, 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 £19 per year, but more expensive policies will also cover your onward travel costs and cover you in Europe as well.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: Our guide to getting your car ready for holiday motoring >>