When trying to figure out the best time to travel on the motorway, you’re likely to find yourself facing a dilemma.
A quick browse through the internet will turn up a multitude of websites and forums advising you to travel at night or during the early hours of the morning to avoid motorway traffic jams.
This is sound advice as far it goes but overlooks one crucial factor – safety. Motorway driving is far more dangerous at night.
So, in this blog we’ll be considering the best time for motorway driving from a safety perspective as well as looking at when traffic is lightest.
Best time to avoid motorway tailbacks
Motorway traffic is considered to be lighter on certain days of the week, namely Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, particularly from 8pm to 6am.
On the other hand, Fridays are more congested than any other weekday. They’re also more dangerous, with nearly 20 per cent more accidents. Weekday rush-hours to be avoided if possible are 6am-10am and 4pm-8pm.
The best time to travel on a motorway to avoid weekend congestion is early morning Saturday or after 6pm, before congestion becomes more likely around 11am Sunday.
How to avert a bank holiday motorway nightmare
Bank holiday weekends can be a nightmare on motorways as millions of leisure-seekers hit the road for a mini-break.
The problem is often aggravated by increased railway engineering works. Network Rail plans major improvement jobs for bank holidays in order to cause the least disruption to passengers. However, that’s little comfort for motorists as even more people are forced to take to the roads.
Based on historic traffic records, TomTom, the navigation and map technology specialists, have compiled a list of the UK’s busiest bank holiday motorway routes, so you might want to avoid:
- M1 between Sheffield and Luton.
- M5 between Bristol and Exeter.
- M6 between Preston and Penrith.
- M40 between Oxford and Uxbridge.
The RAC recommends avoiding heavy bank holiday traffic by using less-used roads at peak times and busier routes at their quietest. Traffic analytics company INRIX says the best time for bank holiday weekend travel to avoid the worst of the traffic is as early or as late in the day as possible.
Ensuring your car is in good condition can help to avoid running into trouble on the motorway, but research by car repair and servicing experts Kwik Fit shows that 90 per cent of motorists fail to check their vehicle before setting off on holiday journeys.
Safest time to travel on the motorway
The Road Safety Foundation says motorways are seven times safer than A-roads. However, motorways become far more hazardous as it gets darker, although traffic becomes lighter. From a safety point of view, the best time to travel on a motorway is from 6am to midnight.
A major problem of driving at night or during the early hours is fatigue. Using a motorway is monotonous at any time but less traffic during the hours of darkness can lead to lack of focus and resulting tiredness.
A 2017 survey by RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) revealed that one in five serious motorway accidents was caused by falling asleep at the wheel. Other risk factors of motorway night driving include reduced visibility and difficulty gauging distance and speed.
If you decide the best time to travel on a motorway is during the evening or overnight, you’ll want to minimise the safety risks. See our guide on how to stay safe on the motorway after dark.
Staying safe on the motorway at all times
No matter what time of day you drive on a motorway, a breakdown can potentially put you in danger, particularly on smart motorways with no hard shoulder.
To keep you and your passengers safe on the motorway, the RAC recommends regular inspection of your car’s:
- Engine oil levels.
- Coolant levels.
- Brakes and disc pads.
- Air conditioning, which also often powers essential components.
- Tyre tread and pressure.
Keeping an eye on your car’s fuel gauge can also help to keep you out of trouble.
If you suspect your car may be failing during a motorway trip but is still driveable, exit at the next junction or pull over at the first service station.