More than 11 million leisure trips by car as schools in England and Wales break up for summer

More than 11 million leisure trips by car as schools in England and Wales break up for summer
The arrival of the school summer holidays in England and Wales will be marked by drivers taking an estimated 11.5m leisure trips by car between today and the end of the weekend,1 a study by the RAC and INRIX suggests.2

The RAC expects today and Friday (23 July) to be the busiest days on the roads in this period with around 2.6m and 2.3m leisure trips made by drivers respectively. Journey times are likely to be severely affected with INRIX predicting a 29% increase in delays on Friday, compared to typical July travel times.

As millions clamour for space on the UK’s roads in a desperate bid to get away for a well-earned break, the RAC and Highways England are urging everyone still prepared to brave the incredibly busy conditions to make sure theirs cars – and anything they might be towing – are up to the task.

With so many cars only having been driven short distances during months of travel restrictions, the risk of breaking down on a long journey increases considerably.

Checking tyres, oil, coolant and screenwash levels will be more important this summer than ever and could make the difference between drivers getting safely to their holiday destinations or being broken down at the side of a busy road.

Data from INRIX, the transport analytics experts, indicates that some of the roads to watch for jams will be sections of the M25, the A303 in Wiltshire, the M1 in the East Midlands and the M4 west of Newport in South Wales – in addition to other usual hotspots like the M5 through Somerset and Devon and roads leading to other popular destinations like the Lake District and the South Coast.

Separate figures released by the RAC last week indicate the summer of 2021 is likely to be the busiest in years, with international travel restrictions scuppering the plans of millions who would normally jet off in search of the sunshine at this time of year.

Just 7% of UK drivers say they expect to take a holiday elsewhere in Europe this summer, down from 10% who said this when questioned in April – with a third of those still hoping for a foreign trip saying they will holiday in the UK instead if they have to.

RAC Breakdown spokesman Simon Williams said: “We seem to have all the elements of a perfect storm on the UK’s roads this summer – with millions of drivers having already planned their staycation trips, plus the very real prospect of huge numbers more booking last minute if their foreign travel plans end in tatters because of Covid travel restrictions.

“After the hot weather last weekend, the scene is really set for an incredibly busy few weeks on the country’s roads, whether that’s on motorways or on smaller, minor routes that take people to popular tourist destinations by the coast or in the countryside. It’s never been more important to plan ahead to avoid the busiest times.

“With the roads likely to be so busy, we’re expecting the numbers of people needing our help to rocket, but it’s not too late to reduce your chances of breaking down. This is why we can’t stress enough how important checking tyres, oil and coolant levels is.

“We’re taking steps to prepare for the unprecedented demand the breakdown industry is facing this summer due to both the UK staycation and the impact of the current self-isolation rules on staffing levels. We’ll be doing all we can to get to those members who do break down as quickly as possible, in these very challenging circumstances.”

Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said: “With the possibility of record numbers of people using the roads this summer, drivers – especially around major metro areas – must be prepared for more delays.

"Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic, and our advice is to leave as early in the day as possible and to avoid travelling on Friday afternoon if at all possible.”

Siobhan Wares, Traffic Officer for Highways England, who patrols the M25 and other major routes, said: ‘You are more likely to experience a breakdown or a collision if your tyres are incorrectly inflated or in a poor condition.

"It only takes a few minutes to check your tyre pressure before you go on your day trip or staycation this summer, and it could save you time and money in the long run. Help yourself and your family reach your destination safely by checking your vehicle before you go.’

Here's how to spot common summer breakdowns before they happen, what to pack in case of emergencies and the vital pre-journey checks you should be doing to keep you moving.

The fastest way for RAC members to log a breakdown and get help is online at

Beat the queues this weekend

DateLeisure trips by carMajor roads likely to be particularly busy betweenMajor roads likely to be less busy betweenSpecific roads where delays can be expected (breakdowns or collisions can significantly increase journey times across the road network)
Wednesday 21 January2.6m2pm and 6pmAfter 6pmM25 anticlockwise J17 to J12; M25 anticlockwise J4 to J1
Thursday 22 July2.0m2pm and 7pmAfter 7pmM25 anticlockwise J4 to J1; M25 clockwise J7 to J16
Friday 23 July2.3m11am to 7 pmAfter 8pmA303 West Solstice Park to A36; M4 east J29 to J24
Saturday 24 July2.0m10am to 4pmAfter 5pmM25 clockwise J7 to J16; M5 south J15 to J23
Sunday 25 July1.3 m12pm to the 6pmAfter 7pmM25 clockwise J7 to J16; M25 anticlockwise J4 to J1; A303 West Solstice Park to A36
Data sources: INRIX and RAC


How to avoid a breakdown this summer from the RAC’s patrol of the year, Ben Aldous

Always remember the word ‘FORCES’:

  • Fuel (petrol/diesel car) or charge (electric car) – it sounds obvious, but make sure you have more than enough for the trip you’re making, to take account of jams. If you’re creeping along in slow moving traffic, you’re still using fuel or battery charge.
  • Oil – it’s vital the oil level is checked to avoid a breakdown and potentially expensive engine damage. RAC video: How and why to check and top up engine oil
  • Rubber – all tyres must be inflated correctly based on the load being carried, check the owners’ manual for details. Each tyre should also have plenty of tread and, of course, be free of any damage. RAC video: How to check tyres have enough tread
  • Coolant – an engine running for longer has a much greater chance of overheating if the coolant is low or leaking. Check the level plenty of days before you are due to go away (make sure the engine is completely cold), and get a garage to assist if needed. RAC video: How and why to check coolant level
  • Electrics ­– you’ll need your lights on during sudden downpours, and your wipers must be able to clear the windscreen properly (wipers that don’t clear effectively are also enough to fail an MOT). RAC video: How to change your wipers
  • Screenwash – keep a clear view of the road ahead (and behind) by ensuring the screenwash bottle is topped up. RAC video: How to check and top up screenwash


Top five staycation destinations for summer 20213

Rank (% of staycation drivers)Most popular destinations
1 (30%)West Country, of which Devon 11%, Cornwall 11%, Dorset 6%, Somerset 3%
2 (14%)Scotland, of which Highlands 6%, other mainland 6%, islands 1%
3 (11%)Wales, of which North 5%, West 3%, South 3%
4 (8%)Yorkshire
5= (6%)Lake District
5= (6%)East Anglia – Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

Read next:

1. Total predicted leisure trips over this period is 11.5m – 10.2m between Friday and Sunday (specific day/s planned), plus 1.3m (unsure of which day over this period at time of answering survey)
2. Getaway trips based on research of drivers’ leisure trip plans conducted for the RAC by Ragdoll Research. Base: 1,000 drivers surveyed July 2021. Road-specific information courtesy INRIX
3. Based on separate research of drivers. See
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