December 21 will be the busiest day on the roads this festive season, with almost 19 million drivers embarking on trips, new research suggests.
The annual getaway from work and school will combine with the last-minute shopping frenzy as 59% of drivers take to main roads or motorways on the last Friday before Christmas, an AA poll of 20,000 motorists indicated.
The breakdown recovery firm warned of queues on major routes and urged people to check traffic reports before setting off.
More than half (53%) of respondents to the survey said they would be driving on December 22.
This is the most popular day of the festive period for shopping and other day trips, with 29% of people embarking on such journeys.
Christmas Eve is expected to see less commuter traffic than normal as it falls on a Monday, meaning many people will finish work on the previous Friday.
However, 50% of drivers are still expected to travel in the 24 hours before Christmas Day, with a spike in visits to friends and family.
AA patrol of the year George Flinton said: “We want drivers to keep their festive spirit alive when they are driving this Christmas and the best way to ensure hassle-free journeys is to plan them well.
“Christmas falling on a Tuesday may help to spread festive journeys out – but it also means more days of traffic as the getaway from work on Friday is followed by last-minute shopping traffic on Saturday and visits to friends and family on Sunday.
“It’s likely to be very busy at peak times on the major routes. Check the traffic reports before you go and try to travel when it’s quieter if you can or consider an alternative route to beat the jams.”
People travelling by train over Christmas face severe disruption on several lines due to engineering work.
Network Rail is warning that some routes will have “significant changes to normal services” and urged people to plan their journeys as early as possible.
There will be less overall disruption than during the 2017 festive period as most of the engineering work has been scheduled for when no trains are planned to run, such as on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Services to London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports will be affected while trains to London Paddington and London Victoria will also be reduced.
Engineering work is taking place around Manchester Victoria while track improvements between Bedford and Kettering will also affect timetables.