Busiest summer school holiday getaway for years expected with 18.8m escapes by car planned this weekend

Busiest summer school holiday getaway for years expected with 18.8m escapes by car planned this weekend
With most schools in England and Wales about to break up for summer, drivers are planning an estimated 18.82m separate leisure trips between Friday and Monday, the highest number recorded for these three days since the RAC started tracking summer getaway numbers in 2014.1

Leisure traffic volumes look set to peak on Saturday 23 July with 4.62m separate road trips but Friday and Sunday are expected to be not far behind with 4.29m separate trips on each day.

An estimated extra 5.61m journeys by car will take place between ‘frantic Friday’ 22 July and the end of Sunday by drivers currently unsure as to which day they will get away.

The RAC and transport analytics specialists INRIX are recommending drivers plan well ahead and start their journeys either very early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the inevitable queues, some of which are expected to form quickly.

INRIX data indicates that the M25 could see some of the worst jams, and singles out stretches between Bromley and the Dartford Crossing, Maple Cross to the M3, and the M23 to the M40.

The A303 near Stonehenge, M4 between Cardiff and Newport and M5 south of Bristol are also likely to see queuing traffic at various points during the weekend, with unexpected vehicle breakdowns only likely to add to the problems.

The RAC’s research suggests the UK might be in line for its third big ‘staycation summer’ in a row following those caused by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, although the extremely high fuel prices might have an effect – either reducing the amount of driving people do in the UK or putting people off driving further afield into continental Europe.

RAC Fuel Watch data that shows, incredibly, the cost of filling a 55-litre family car with petrol costs £30 more this summer than last, and £42 more than in 2020. The situation with diesel is even more severe, with the cost of a tank up £34 compared to last year and £44 more than a year earlier.

With such an expensive summer on the cards, the RAC is urging drivers to do everything they can to avoid breaking down and potentially be faced with an unexpected garage bill – not least as separate RAC research found that just a fifth of UK drivers (17%) regularly check their vehicles before setting out on long journeys. Checking oil, coolant and screenwash levels, together with tyre tread and pressures, helps ensure cars and ‘road-ready’ and can significantly cut the chances of a breakdown occurring– potentially saving some drivers’ summer holiday trips from disaster.2

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “The extreme heat that’s affecting much of the UK in the last few days might wane over the next few days, but we still expect the summer getaway to begin with a bang as a potentially record-breaking number of drivers take to the roads this coming weekend – and that’s despite the unbelievably high cost of fuel.

“With school terms in England and Wales finishing this week and millions of people ready for a well-earned break, we anticipate a ‘frantic Friday’ followed by a woeful weekend on major roads across the country, with traffic and congestion likely peaking on Saturday. The advice to drivers heading off on a holiday by car is therefore clear – leave as early as you can in the morning or expect to be sat in some lengthy queues.

“With this summer set to be one of the most expensive for years – thanks to the record-high price of fuel and the wider cost-of-living crisis – the very last thing drivers want is to break down and at best have to wait to be fixed at the roadside or, at worst, face an unexpected large garage repair bill.

“It’s a fact that a huge proportion of the estimated 300,000 breakdowns our patrols will attend in the coming six weeks are avoidable if drivers make sure they look over their vehicles before any long drive. A breakdown is so much less likely if a vehicle’s oil and coolant levels, as well as tyre pressure and tread depth, have all been checked before setting out.”

INRIX transport analyst Bob Pishue said: “Drivers should expect traffic congestion to build throughout the day, especially on motorways. Despite high fuel prices, travellers do not appear to be giving up their road trips and holidays.”

National Highways, which is responsible for motorways and major A roads across the country, has launched a campaign reminding drivers to check their tyres regularly and always before long journeys.

More than 41,500 people broke down on National Highways roads last year because of tyre issues – that is over 20% of all breakdowns.

National Highways Head of Road Safety, Jeremy Phillips, said: “With schools breaking up for summer soon there will be more people on the roads and taking longer journeys. We know that breaking down can be a very upsetting experience, nobody wants to start off their holiday stranded at the side of the road, next to fast moving traffic.

“So we are reminding drivers to check their vehicles, particularly the tyres, before setting off. Unsafe tyres put you and others at risk as well as running the risk of attracting a hefty fine and penalty points.

“A simple check on tyre tread and pressure could prevent a breakdown and make sure you get to your destination safe and sound.”

Top tips from RAC patrols on avoiding a breakdown

“Put simply, a well-maintained car is much less likely to break down than one that hasn’t been looked after. So, if you have a big drive coming up and suspect something on your car’s not quite right then get it into a good garage as soon as you can this week.” – Ben Aldous, Manchester-based patrol

“Keep your locking wheel nut somewhere you can easily find it as this makes it quicker for us to do a tyre change if needed. Make sure that everything fixed to the outside of your car – bikes, roof boxes – are properly secured. If you’re travelling with a dog, again ensure it’s secure inside and has some food and water. And download and use the free MyRAC mobile app as it makes it much easier for us to find you.” – Kevin Andrews, Bath-based patrol

“Check your tyres every time, especially the inside front edges. You can fully lock the steering one way or the other so you can see the condition of your front tyres easily. And whatever you do, don’t start a journey with a known problem!” – Stuart Lurc, Salisbury-based patrol

Travel this bank holiday weekend

Data sources: INRIX and RAC

DateTripsWorst travel timesBest travel times
Fri 224.29m10:00 to 19:00Before 09:00, after 19:00
Sat 234.62m10:00 to 15:00Before 09:00, after 16:00
Sun 244.29m11:00 to 18:00Before 10:00, after 20:00

Roads to watch for delays

  • Friday
    • M25 anticlockwise J4 Bromley to Dartford Crossing: 60 min delays mid-afternoon.
    • M4 eastbound J30 Cardiff East to J24 for the A449 Monmouth: 26 min delays mid-afternoon.
    • M25 anticlockwise J17 Maple Cross to J12 for the M3: 50 min delays late afternoon.
  • Saturday
    • A303 westbound past Stonehenge: 27 min delays late morning.
    • M25 clockwise J7 for the M23 to J16 for the M40: 52 min delays around middle of the day.
    • M5 south J15 Almondsbury Interchange to J23 for A38 Bridgwater: 47 min delays around middle of the day.
    • M25 anticlockwise J17 Maple Cross to J12 for the M3: 36 min delays around middle of the day.
  • Sunday
    • M25 clockwise J7 for the M23 to J16 for the M40: 45 min delays around middle of the day.
    • M25 anticlockwise J4 Bromley to Dartford Crossing: 31 min delays mid-afternoon.
    • M25 anticlockwise J17 Maple Cross to J12 for the M3: 26 min delays mid-afternoon.

Up and up… how the cost of fuel is so much higher this year

Data source: RAC Fuel Watch

Average cost of a litre of unleadedCost to fill a 55-litre family carAverage cost of a litre of dieselCost to fill a 55-litre family car
July 2022£1.90£104.50£1.98£108.90
July 2021£1.34£73.70£1.37£75.35
July 2020£1.14£62.70£1.18£64.90
July 2019£1.29£70.95£1.31£72.05
July 2018£1.29£70.95£1.32£72.60

Top tips for avoiding – or just coping – with the jams

Think carefully about when to travel

Most traffic queues are caused by too many cars on the same roads at the same time. If you can travel outside the peak times – think early in the morning or later in the evening – you can easily miss them.

Make sure your vehicle is properly prepared

Many breakdowns are avoidable – punctures for instance can be caused by a tyre that is in poor condition or not inflated properly. Check oil and coolant levels as if these run low you could be in for an unwelcome breakdown and a big repair bill.

Keep you and your passengers happy

Hungry, thirsty or tired passengers are recipes for in-car irritability – and ‘carguments’, so when setting out, pack enough food and water to keep your passengers happy, and plan in enough breaks along the way.

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1 Figures based on a survey of 1,700 UK drivers’ travel plans for this weekend.

2 Based on a survey of 500 UK drivers

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