Avoid the worst of the holiday jams by taking note of Europe’s traffic blackspots, and the times when they are likely to be busiest.
update Saturday 4 January: traffic was noticeably heavy descending the Dolomites to northern Italy on New Year’s Day but apart from that – and some short rush hour delays as people slowly returned to work – the roads this week have been very quiet. The expected northbound rush through Switzerland Thursday and Friday failed to materialise.
Today has been a different story. The blackspot N90 down from the French Alps – Bourg-Moutiers-Albertville – and the cross border roads Austria and Germany were all very busy from early on. The biggest delays however had passed by lunchtime.
It has been fairly nightmarish in Switzerland though, heavy snow across the Alps combined with heavy traffic meaning stop start for many drivers with lengthy delays to clear the A2, and big queues around major cities. The Gotthard Tunnel saw its first significant delays of the holidays. The situation improved as the afternoon wore on – since when traffic started to build on roads towards the A22 Brenner motorway in northern Italy – then suddenly worsened again with an 8km queue northbound.
The other afternoon blackspot has been the Sosa Valley west of Turin and the roads between the Frejus Tunnel and Briancon direction Grenoble. Drivers could expect 40min delays whichever way they were heading, peaking briefly at a 1h20 delay northbound for Frejus.
The French are normally the first to raise the alarm about expected traffic jams but the highest warning over the Christmas period is orange, one up from ‘no problems’.
The busiest days are expected to be this Friday and Saturday (20-21 December), Christmas Eve (Tuesday) and Saturday 28 January as drivers head out. The return busy days are Sunday 29 December and Saturday 4 January.
As ever, Lyon will be the hotspot, either south on the A7 to Avignon or – especially – the A43 west to Chambery and the Alps. The absolute classic French winter traffic jam is the A90 Albertville-Moutiers off the A43/A430 from Chambery, in the heart of the Three Valleys ski region.
German roads are expected to be busy right up until 7 January with only Christmas Eve quieter than usual according to motoring organisation ADAC.
The particular hotspots will be Friday evening (20 December) after schools break up, all day the next day, especially around cities, and then immediately after Christmas as the winter holiday rush starts.
The heaviest holiday jams are traditionally in Bavaria, particularly the south on the border with Austria. The A99 ring around Munich is best avoided, as is the A8 to Salzburg and the A93 off there to Innsbruck (see below).
It will be interesting to see if drivers use the A12 motorway at Kufstein since the vignette exemption was lifted earlier this month.
This notoriously busy stretch south of the German border, between Munich and Innsbruck to the west, is a popular way to reach the ski resorts in Vorarlberg and Tyrol in western Austria.
If drivers do avoid the A12 they will either divert through local villages, or put even more pressure on the other notorious border crossing, the Fussen-Reutte A7/B179 Fernpass to the west of Innsbruck.
Either way, ASFINAG warns these roads – and the A10 between Salzburg and Biscofshofen – will be at their worst on the weekend of 27-30 December.
Summer or winter, if it’s holiday time then the big bottleneck is always the Gotthard Tunnel, on the major north-south drag A2 between Basel and Chiasso on the Italian border (not an issue until Saturday 4 January).
At busy times the usual advice is to head from Basel to Zurich on the A3 and then south on the A13 to hitch back up with the A2 at Bellinzona. However, because of all the swish ski resorts in the east of Switzerland the A13 will be busy too. The other hotspot will be the A6/8 Bern-Interlaken.
As a transit country, Switzerland has busy northbound days and busy southbound days. Northbound days are Saturday and Sunday 28-29 December, and Wednesday and Thursday 1-2 January. Southbound traffic will be heavy on Saturday 21 December, Friday and Saturday 27-28 December (and Friday and Saturday 24-25 January).
The Swiss Touring Club says avoid travelling between 10-15:00 on southbound Saturdays, 11-16:00 on northbound Saturdays and 15-18:00 on northbound Sundays.
Weather: with even Finland expecting a ‘Black Christmas’, those at ground level are unlikely to see much snow. Instead there will be widespread storms, heavy rain and high winds. According to the latest BBC Winter Sports forecast however, ski regions will see snow.
Read about Winter Tyre requirements around Europe here.