Warning for ‘Mayhem’ bank holiday with traffic well above pre-Covid levels

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30th April 2024

Bank holiday “Mayhem” could see a “crescendo of cars” on the roads this coming weekend as motorists head away.

More than 16 million drivers are expected to hit the roads for the first bank holiday weekend in May, with traffic well above pre-Covid levels, research from the RAC and transport analytics specialists at Inrix shows.

Getaway traffic is expected to start building on Friday 3 May before peaking on Saturday at 3.3 million journeys.

A further 2.3 million and 2.6 million separate getaway trips are planned on Sunday and Monday respectively, while another 5.6 million are expected to be made at some point over the weekend by drivers still deciding which day to travel.

To avoid the traffic, Inrix is advising drivers to not to set off between 1pm and 7pm on Thursday, 11am and 6pm on Friday, 9am and 2pm on Saturday, and 10am and 3pm on both the Sunday and Monday.

Throughout the weekend, the best times to travel will be before 9am and after 5pm while Friday 3 May will be the worst day for hold-ups, with delays on major routes expected to take 13% longer than usual.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “We’re anticipating a ‘crescendo of cars’ on the road over the weekend with as many as three million motorists making leisure trips on Saturday alone. In addition to the majority of motorists planning day trips and short breaks, our data shows local routes to city and out-of-town shopping centres could see heavy traffic, so it’s best to head out early morning or evening if possible.”

Inrix data also indicates that the long weekend may start as early as Thursday morning in some parts of the UK, with the M53 southbound from Liverpool to Chester hit by mid-morning delays of up to 45 minutes. The busiest route will be the M5 southbound between Bristol and Taunton on Friday afternoon where travel is expected to take nearly two hours longer than usual due to getaway and commuter traffic combining.

Most major routes across the south and south west are likely to take an average of 50% longer than usual to drive on Friday afternoon. And on bank holiday Monday itself, parts of the north west, East Anglia and south west will be hardest hit by returning traffic. Jams are predicted on the M55 eastbound between Blackpool and Preston from 11am, Cornwall to Exeter eastbound on the A30 and A38 from 11.30am and Norwich to Thetford on the A11 southbound from 12.15pm.

The majority of drivers will be on the roads for family visits (39%) and shopping trips (14%), while 8% will be staying with loved ones for a short break.

In addition, 8% of drivers are planning to stay at a holiday home and a further 7% are considering a trip to the coast or the beach. Just 4% are intending to travel to an airport, which is just as well given the planned strikes at Heathrow Airport on Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday Monday.

Since 2017, RAC figures suggest 14 million drivers tend to get away for a leisure journey at some point over the bank holiday weekend. This year’s total of 16 million, in line with the last two years, is well above average, showing drivers’ continued post-Covid eagerness to make the most of time spent with friends and family.

RAC’s Alice Simpson added: “With Covid travel restrictions a thing of the past, catching up with friends and family is still the first priority for nearly half of drivers making leisure trips over the bank holiday.

“Since 2022 – the first full year since mobility restrictions lifted – drivers appear to be much more eager to make the most of the May Day weekend, with the total number of getaway trips this year far exceeding the average since 2017.”

Drivers taking longer breaks are warned to plan return journeys in advance as the train strikes between Tuesday 7 and Saturday 11 May will inevitably lead to roads being busier.

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