Motorists are being warned to expect festive frustration and “severe delays” when the big Christmas getaway begins this week.
Traffic experts believe at least 20 million leisure journeys will be made in the run-up to December 25.
The worst hotspots are expected to be the M25, M6 and M40 , with Thursday and Friday seeing the most congestion.
Joshua Kidd, of traffic information firm Inrix, said: “Our data shows that compared to a normal day, Thursday December 20, will see the biggest increase in cars on the road.
“With most drivers setting out mid-morning, traffic will become heavier over the course of the afternoon and stay congested into the evening.
“But it’s not just those off to see family and friends – commuters, last-ditch shoppers and online deliveries will contribute to clogging the roads.”
The dire predictions come as analysis shows fewer people using the high street for Christmas shopping than last year
Retail experts Springboard said the number of shoppers on Saturday was down 9%.
Diane Wehrle, of Springboard, said bad weather was partly to blame, adding: “If people are presented with really terrible weather, they then have the choice to shop online…”
The Met Office has warned of possible flooding following heavy rain tomorrow.
Up to 40mm (1.5in) is expected in Scotland, The North and the South West.
It heralds a week of unsettled weather across the country.
Sophie Yeomans, of the Met Office, said: “Chances are we will see a bit of cloud and rain on the Saturday.
“Temperatures seem about average for the time of year… at around 7C to 8C.
“It’s still very much up for grabs at the moment for Christmas Day. There is a chance we might see drier and colder weather.”
Asked about the prospects of a white Christmas, Ms Yeomans said it was “not completely out of the question”.
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