MORE than three million cars are expected to hit the roads on Friday as people plan their festive getaways.

The RAC says 21 million cars are expected on the roads between today (Thursday) and Christmas Eve.

With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, figures show leisure traffic levels will climb slowly the previous week before jumping by a whopping 43 per cent from 2.2m on Thursday 21 to 3.2m on Friday 22 December.

The period covering Friday and Christmas Eve is expected to see the most leisure journeys by car though – an estimated 13.5m this year, up 20 per cent from the same period last year.

While Christmas Eve getaways match ‘Frantic Friday’ trips at 3.2m, the reality is Friday will be far busier as those heading off for festivities share the roads with commuters and parents collecting children from school.

Roads will also be busy on Christmas Day and Boxing Day with an average of 3.5m trips expected, but serious delays should be less of a risk without the normal mix of commercial, commuter and school traffic.

Across most major routes during the pre-Christmas weekend, 12pm to 2pm will be the busiest time to travel, with both the RAC and INRIX urging drivers to avoid lunchtime journeys.

The best times to travel will be before 11am and after 6pm on both the 22nd and 23rd December, when it’s hoped drivers will be able to reach their loved ones with slightly fewer tailbacks.

RAC Breakdown spokesperson Alice Simpson said: “Since Christmas falls on a Monday this year, there’s no need for drivers to use annual leave for getaway trips as they can travel over the weekend before. For that very reason, our research suggests these days will be the busiest times to drive, so we urge people to set off as early as possible on Saturday and Sunday.

“Since festive trips to see friends and family are so important, drivers do everything they can to avoid their vehicles letting them down. We recommend using the ‘FORCES’ acronym to help remember the Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics and Screen wash checks you need to make before a long journey.

“This is especially important if your route involves a motorway or A-road, where most delays are expected this year.

Although it’s positive that National Highways have removed the majority of roadworks from high-speed roads, an increase in drivers could mean an increase in breakdowns."

Bob Pishue, INRIX transportation analyst, said: “On average, drivers could see travel times up to 20 per cent longer this holiday season, while travellers around Greater London could experience more than double typical drive times. Our recommendation is to avoid peak commuting hours and use traffic apps to minimise holiday travel traffic frustrations.”