DRIVERS embarking on the Christmas getaway have until lunchtime to avoid severe traffic jams, an expert has warned.
Chief economist at transportation analysis firm Inrix, Dr Graham Cookson, says many motorists could be stuck in long queues from this afternoon.
An estimated 1.3m drivers on leisure trips will fight for road space with regular commuters on the last working day before Christmas.
Dr Cookson said it will be one of the worst days of the year on the roads with ‘incredibly severe’ traffic jams.
He told the Press Association: ‘After lunch most of the roads will get busier and stay busy into the evening.
‘What we see is roads in congestion for most of the time, average speeds very slow, people crawling along.
‘The pure weight of traffic means a lot of motorways will be much slower than normal so your total journey takes so much longer.’
Inrix data shows the worst non-accident traffic blackspot on the Friday before Christmas last year was the A303 at Stonehenge.
There were tailbacks for seven miles when congestion at the notorious bottleneck peaked shortly after 6pm on December 23, 2016.
Asked which routes will see the longest queues this year, Dr Cookson replied: ‘Unfortunately any of the major motorways. It’s tricky to avoid.’
He said the M25 is ‘right at the top of the list’, warning ‘it doesn’t matter which way you’re going round it’.
The RAC is referring to the day as ‘frantic Friday’ and strongly urged drivers to avoid long journeys if they can.
It estimates 11.5 million leisure trips will be made by car between December 17 and Christmas Eve, but this will be eclipsed by the 17.5m taking place between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day as people take advantage of post-Christmas sales at shops.
Almost 400 miles of roadworks will be lifted by Highways England to ease journeys.
Some 260 engineering projects on the railway will also disrupt journeys and could force more people to travel on already congested roads.
Many of Britain’s mainline routes will be partially shut as Network Rail carries out its biggest ever Christmas investment programme.