Last updated May 05, 2023
In 2022, the average UK motorist lost around 80 hours to traffic congestion – an increase of around 7 hours from 2021 (although still 35 hours below 2019’s pre-pandemic figure).
The latest DVLA records (VEH0101) show that as of September 2022, there were 40,772,400 licenced vehicles in the UK (including 33,154,700 cars). Considering there were just 4 million vehicles on UK roads in 1950, it’s clear to see why road congestion now sits high on the list of grievances for many drivers.
So, how can you drive through the UK’s bustling towns and cities without getting caught up in the rush?
Whether you’re preparing for a road trip or simply want to keep your stress levels down whilst commuting, setting off at the right time is key. Savvy drivers go to great lengths to plan their journeys, not only to avoid the busiest roads, but to ensure they’re nowhere near them when gridlock sets in!
Travelling during quieter times can help you reduce fuel consumption (thanks to less stop/start driving and more opportunities to use your cruise control) - and most importantly, free up more valuable time.
In this guide, we will explain when different types of roads in the UK are at their quietest. We’ll also cover the best times to commute to and from work, navigate Bank Holiday traffic – and even the optimal times for new and learner drivers to hone their skills on the motorways.
Commuting is a little quieter on Mondays in many UK cities. Sunday is often the best day to go on a sightseeing trip whilst avoiding traffic – especially if you set off earlier on before many of the shops open and the usual ‘Sunday drivers’ venture out.
UK motorways are usually at their quietest between midnight and 6am. However, if you do travel during these times, make sure you take regular breaks. Driving on a quiet stretch of motorway over a prolonged period can make you more susceptible to fatigue.
If your shifts start and finish earlier than the typical 9-5, there’s a good chance you’ll waste less time sat in traffic. For example, if you work from 7am to 3pm, you could save an hour each week compared to those caught in the worst of the rush hour.
A later shift could be even more advantageous. If you work from 11am-7pm, you could save 1.5 hours’ travel time each week.
Leaving the office earlier than most of your fellow commuters can work in your favour. If you can complete your journey home before rush hour (usually between 4 and 7pm on weekday evenings), you should be able to avoid any significant delay.
Alternatively, driving home later, after the worst of the rush hour traffic has subsided can also save you time.
It appears that flexible working is here to stay, as 4 out of 5 UK business owners allow staff to work from home for at least some of the week. So, what is the best day for hybrid workers to commute to the office?
According to a study carried out by a leading UK coworking space provider, journey times tend to be shorter on Mondays (and longer on Tuesdays) in many UK cities.
The same study also examined commute times in major UK cities. It should come as little surprise that London topped the list; commuters in the capital can expect to sit through 18 hours of traffic in a single working week.
Commuters in Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh typically spend nearly 11 hours navigating traffic during a busy week.
On average, commuters in Glasgow spent the shortest amount of time in traffic each week (7 hours) – just slightly less than those in Birmingham (7 hours 10 minutes).
You should encounter less traffic in London late at night or early in the morning (before 6:30am, when the early rush hour traffic starts to pick up).
If you want to drive from Manchester to London with minimal disruption, consider leaving Manchester by 8pm with a view to arriving in London around midnight.
This should ensure you miss the rush hour traffic, whilst also avoiding late night maintenance work during your journey.
Warnings of severe traffic delays usually feature heavily in the press on the run up to bank holidays.
When most of the population has a day away from their workplace or the classroom, the roads tend to get a lot busier, with millions of drivers venturing out for day trips or short getaways. So, if you’re among them, what can you do beat the rush?
Travelling earlier (before 9am) or in the evenings (after 7pm) can help you avoid the worst of the traffic.
Choose less congested routes.
If there are any major events taking place near your intended route, watch out for delays and diversions.
pay attention to the latest traffic updates on the radio.
Here are a few tips to help you successfully navigate a traffic jam:
If your car is struggling to cope with longer journeys, consider whether now would be a good time to sell your car. Read our guide ‘When is the best time to sell a car?’ to learn about seasonality and the other factors that can affect your car valuation.
Motorways are at their quietest late at night (after 11pm, but before the traffic starts to pick up around 6am).
However, if you want to build your confidence on the motorways, it may be best to practice in moderate traffic conditions (typically between 11am and 3pm on weekdays). This way, you are likely to encounter enough moving traffic to test your skills, but not so much as to overwhelm you.
During rush hours in the school holidays, many parents, children and school staff that would normally travel to and from school are not on the roads – and school bus networks are not in operation. This significantly relieves road congestion.
The ‘rush hours’ on UK roads are often between 7am and 10am – then from 4pm to 7pm, although this may vary depending on your location.
According to data collated from TomTom’s Traffic Index, Reading and Coventry are the least congested cities, with full-time commuters in these areas typically losing 62 and 63 hours per year to traffic respectively – significantly below the UK average of 80 hours.
According to the latest data from the Department of Transport, the UK’s most congested road is the A2270 in Eastbourne. On average, drivers on this road will experience a 172.8 second delay for each mile travelled (down from 196.5 seconds per mile in 2021).
Source: Average speed on the Strategic Road Network in England: monthly and annual averages