Last updated: August 24, 2022 at 8:35 am
Cars are a part of modern life. They’ve changed from a luxury to a necessity in many places, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, this has led to an explosion in the number of cars on the road. In the 1950s, there were only 4 million cars on our roads, but in 2021 this ballooned to 31.8 million.
The government has taken some steps to improve the infrastructure to cope with the boom. But, roads are still extremely busy at peak times, particularly in cities. If you work in many sectors such as schools, offices, factories, or shops, it’s likely unavoidable that you’ll have to travel during rush hour.
If you have a flexible schedule, though, are there better times to use the roads?
IN THIS ARTICLE
When Is Rush Hour?
Although it can vary depending on where you live, in general, rush hour is from 7 am to 10 am and from 4 pm to 7 pm on weekdays in the UK. These are still the peak times during the school holidays, but the number of cars on the roads during rush hour does drop dramatically.
Related: Read all of our car noise articles
There is no rush hour as such on weekends, but traffic does increase in the mornings. Many people go food shopping, to visit family and for days out. In the evenings, people go out socially.
What Is the Quietest Time to Commute?
A study near Manchester found that commuters who work the 8 am – 4 pm shift faced the most significant increase in journey time due to traffic. Unsurprisingly, those who work from 9 am to 5 pm are scarcely better off and only save 10 minutes per week. However, if your job allows you to start earlier, working from 7 am – 3 pm could save you an hour’s travel time per week.
If working earlier isn’t an option, could you take a later shift? For example, working from 10 am – 6 pm could also save you an hour. Even better, if you consider from 11 am – 7 pm, you could get back an hour and a half of time typically wasted sitting in traffic.
If you’re an early riser and you have a long trip to make, it’s better to start early. If you can manage it, aim to be on the road by 6 am. This means you can be out of the city centre and onto the motorway before rush hour begins. Even if you don’t live in a city, there’s a good chance you live near enough one to get swept up in traffic as commuters travel between towns. Leaving at 6 am gives you the best chance of being in a quieter part of the motorway before everyone else starts their day.
Depending on the length of your journey, leaving early also gives you a chance to complete your trip before rush hour starts at 4 pm. Evening rush hour is generally busier as people travel to social gatherings and after-school clubs as well as coming home from work. So, if you can finish your journey before it starts, you will find the roads quieter and reduce your travel time.
Longer Journeys At Night?
In terms of the amount of traffic on the roads, yes, travelling at night makes more sense. However, the amount of traffic is not the only thing to consider.
Firstly, many HGVs travel at night, delivering goods across the country. Anyone who has ever driven on a motorway knows the frustration of coming up behind a group of HGVs moving below the speed limit. They are driving in a line across all the lanes. You are then stuck behind them, travelling at a slower speed than necessary.
This reduction will increase the length of your journey but can also leave you feeling frustrated. Frustration can lead to poor judgement and potentially risky overtaking manoeuvres. This is dangerous enough during the day, but due to decreased visibility at night, it could greatly increase the likelihood of a collision
Secondly, all road users will be more sleepy at night, which increases the risk of accidents. Again, tired drivers combined with poor visibility are a recipe for disaster. Remember, just because you are alert and comfortable driving at night does not mean other road users are. You need to weigh these risks against the benefit of quieter roads.
Days With Lighter Traffic
Traffic in towns and cities tends to be constant through the week as people have work and school commitments. If you’re going to be travelling on the motorways, they tend to be a little quieter from Tuesday to Thursday, particularly if you get the early start recommended above.
If you want to avoid the worst of the traffic and an increased risk of accidents, don’t travel on Friday. Almost 20% more collisions are recorded on Friday than on the other days of the week.
On the weekends, Saturday is busy with people commuting, goods vehicles and an increase in leisure trips. So, you’d need to travel before 6 am or after 7 pm to avoid the worst. Sundays are busy from 11 am til around 7 pm, so if you’re off for a day out, if you can stick to these times, you’ll have a smoother trip.
Almost everyone has a dedicated sat-nav or an app on their phone nowadays. Most people only use them when heading to a new location, but they are worth using every day. Even if you could drive to work with your eyes closed (not recommended!), you won’t know if there have been any accidents on your route.
A quick check before setting off could save you from getting stuck in tailbacks and get you to work on time. Use them for a long journey as motorways can become extremely congested due to lane closures or accidents. It may be quicker to take A and B roads than to wait for the road to clear.
UK roads are rarely quiet, even when you travel through the night. Working from 11 am – 7 pm is the best shift to avoid the worst of the traffic when commuting. If you’re taking a long trip, it’s recommended where possible to leave around 6 am and to avoid travelling on Friday unless it’s unavoidable.
Finally, always check your sat nav to keep abreast of new road incidents affecting your journey. Happy driving!