Top tips for surviving the bank holiday weekend traffic rush

Around 16.9 million drivers are expected to take to the roads over the coming bank holiday weekend. Follow our top tips to avoid the worst jams...

Traffic jam on the M1

With more people than usual holidaying in the UK this summer and the promise of warm, sunny weather over the bank holiday weekend, much increased traffic levels are expected to this weekend. 

Around 16.9 million leisure journeys are expected to be taken, with families making the most of the last bank holiday before Christmas and others returning home from staycation breaks ahead of the start of the autumn school term. 

Today is likely to be the worst day for traffic congestion, with 4.3 million leisure car journeys planned, according to transport analytics experts INRIX. That's a 25% increase compared with a typical day in August.

Saturday will bring 3.3 million trips and bank holiday Monday 3 million, with Sunday looking slightly less busy with 2.6 million anticipated trips.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis said: "It’s been an incredibly busy summer on the UK’s roads, with vast numbers of people on the move both for ‘staycation’ holidays and for day trips to the sea and countryside. Our figures suggest this trend will continue, with bumper-to-bumper bank holiday traffic expected, especially on the most popular holiday routes."

The RAC and other breakdown and road safety organisations are urging drivers to take some simple steps to avoid breaking down in the first place. 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

Roads in the South West of England are likely to bear the brunt of the traffic this bank holiday weekend, with an estimated 3.6m trips expected to and from the region between today and Monday. INRIX data suggests that travel times on classic holiday routes, including the M5 and A303, will more than double at certain times over the weekend.

Other popular motorways and road networks are also likely to be particularly busy, including the M6, M25 and M40.

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.


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’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.

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