Driving at Christmas may sound magical. But busy roads, over-excited passengers and wintry weather can combine to make festive trips more maddening than merry.
If you’re taking to the road this Christmas, whether it’s to head home for the holidays, visit family or friends or have a yuletide adventure, follow our top tips to make your journey as smooth as possible.
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At a glance
1. Fill up your tank the night before – you'll be able to get straight on the road AND find the best price.
2. Check the weather forecast for your route and destination, as well as your starting location.
3. Pack an emergency kit with torch, blanket, phone battery pack and water.
plan your journey
It may sound obvious, but a bit of planning can go a long way when it comes to driving over Christmas. Research your routes and check if there are any road closures or diversions which could de-rail your journey. And just like Santa checks his list twice, make sure you do a final check just before you set off in case anything has changed or there have been any last-minute accidents.
Waze Route Planner is a really handy tool when it comes to planning journeys. You can set up your route, including scheduled snack stops, and receive real-time updates based on traffic events and road conditions. If you need to be somewhere by a certain time, plan your route first thing and it will even tell you what time you should set off to give you the best chance of arriving on time
fill up in advance
We’ve all done it. Rushed out the door with just enough time to make it to your destination only to be met with a near empty tank. Set yourself a reminder to fill up the night before so you can get straight on the road. You’ll also be able to take your time and find the cheapest fuel rather than filling up at pricey motorway pumps
look at the weather forecast
Wintry driving conditions can test even the most experienced driver. Check the weather forecast before you set off, so you know if you need to take extra precautions, switch your route if you were planning a scenic drive or even delay your journey.
Don’t forget to check the forecast for your destination and along the route too – conditions could be considerably different to at home.
check your car
Before you set off there are a few simple checks you can do to make sure your car is in the best possible condition. Check your oil levels, test your battery and top up your screen wash and anti-freeze. It’s also important to assess your tyre tread depth and make sure your windscreen wipers are in good working order.
See our guide to winter car maintenance for more information.
pack an emergency kit
The boot may be full of presents, but make sure you leave some space for emergency essentials, just in case. It’s worth having a box with the following items in your car at all times:
- Warm clothes, a blanket and spare, practical shoes
- Water and snacks
- Spare phone charger/battery bank
- Torch and batteries
make sure the driver is rested
Christmas is a busy time, but you don’t want to be settling in for a long stint behind the wheel if you’re feeling the effects of too many late evenings wrapping presents. Make sure the driver gets an early night before setting off, or plan to swap drivers halfway. It can be tempting to just try and power through and reach your destination, but it’s definitely a good idea to plan in some rest stops. The Highway Code suggests taking a 15-minute break every two hours.
If you’ve been at a Christmas party, it’s also important to make sure you’re not still over the drink-driving limit the following morning. It’s safest to avoid drinking completely and stick to non-alcoholic alternatives before a big trip. If you wake up questioning whether you should be driving, don’t get behind the wheel.
keep the kids entertained
Over-excited children can be a big distraction so take some steps to ensure little passengers are happy and entertained on the journey. Why not make a festive playlist so they can listen out for their favourites? Or we’ve got plenty of inspiration for car games.
pack presents carefully
If you’re playing Santa and have a sleigh (sorry car) full of presents to deliver, make sure they’re hidden from view, so you’re not targeted by opportune thieves when you make a service station stop.
And make sure that nothing is rattling or banging around – you don’t want to be distracted wondering if mum’s new vase is going to make it in one piece.
keep your christmas spirit
No one really wants to spend any part of the Christmas season on the motorway, so remember to be kind to your fellow drivers. Giving into road rage can have serious consequences, from causing a collision to being prosecuted for dangerous driving. If you feel yourself getting stressed out, factor in an extra break and take some time away from the road to clear your head.
Pick the best days to drive over Christmas
Is your journey flexible? If so, pick the day you travel wisely. There are always some days when the roads are busier.
This year, the AA has predicted that Friday 22 December and Saturday 23 December will be the busiest days for festive travellers, with over 16 million cars taking to the road each day. 1
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day will be a bit quieter on the roads, with an average of 14 million drivers. And journeys will typically be shorter with people popping to see local family or run last minute errands.
But there is some good news for Christmas drivers, with National Highways saying they aim to have more than 98 per cent of motorways and major A-roads free of roadworks between Tuesday 19 December and Tuesday 2 January 2.
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