Driving home for Christmas? These are the times and roads to avoid

The M4 out of London is unlikely to be as busy as other motorways this Christmas  (Simon Calder)
The M4 out of London is unlikely to be as busy as other motorways this Christmas (Simon Calder)

The customary festive classic from Chris Rea is “Driving Home for Christmas”. But over the coming weekend millions of motorists may find another tune from the ageing crooner more appropriate: “The Road to Hell.”

On the Friday, Saturday and Sunday leading up to 25 December, the M25, M1 and M6 are all expected to suffer serious traffic jams. Peak traffic, with queues of up to an hour, is predicted for the M25 clockwise between the M23 for Gatwick and M40 for Birmingham on Saturday 23 December.

Motoring organisation the RAC predicts that motorists will make 21 million Christmas getaway trips.

Friday 22 December is likely to be the worst for sheer volume of traffic, when festive motorists compete with regular commuters and truck drivers for road space.

Because 25 December falls on a Monday, many drivers who are working all of this week will travel on Saturday or Sunday.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year, there’s no need for drivers to use annual leave for getaway trips as they can travel over the weekend before.

“For that very reason, our research suggests these days will be the busiest times to drive, so we urge people to set off as early as possible on Saturday and Sunday.”

A poll conducted by the motoring organisation indicates 60 per cent of all getaways will be crammed into the three days before Christmas.

Anyone driving in the middle of those days can expect a “lunch crunch”: on 22, 23 and 24 December, traffic will be heaviest between 12 noon and 2pm

Widespread rail closures for engineering work are likely to force more people on to the roads. On 24 December, two London intercity terminals – Paddington and King’s Cross – will be closed.

Data from transport analytics specialist Inrix predicts daily delays of around 40 minutes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the M25 clockwise west of Greater London.

Outside the capital, the M1 north between Woburn and Daventry, and the M6 south from Wigan to Stafford, will be hit hard with delays.

The A303 westbound in the area around Stonehenge is also tipped for severe traffic jams on Saturday 23 December. The route is popular with Londoners heading for Devon and Cornwall.

Roads and motorways serving major airports are expected to be especially busy on 22 and 23 December.

Research by The Independent shows London Heathrow and many other airports could experience their busiest festive day ever on Friday, with Manchester and London Stansted expecting the highest number of passengers on Saturday.