The Confounding Holiday Traffic of Summer 2015

French drivers avoid the busiest days, and make good use of the free A75 via Clermont Ferrand, while the season drags on much longer in Germany, and the jams start much earlier in the day.

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French drivers have opted for the A75 more than ever this year - but is it because of the Millau Viaduct, or because this is one of the few free French autoroutes?

French drivers have opted for the A75 more than ever this year, but is it because of the spectacular Millau Viaduct, or because – bridge excepted – this is one of the few free French autoroutes?

Maybe late-August is a bit too soon to draw conclusions about this year’s confounding summer holiday traffic.

After all, there is almost another six weeks to go before the season ends.

On the other hand, a clear pattern does seem to have emerged. In short, drivers have shown themselves more savvy than ever to the Continent’s hotspots, and hot days, but the result has been to spread the misery rather than reduce it.

Yesterday’s peak 540km of combined traffic jams in France was the latest in a line of ‘disappointing’ summer Saturdays.

It was billed as ‘Black Saturday South’ when all those holidaying in the south of France return home in a rush, a week ahead of the schools going back.

In fact, peak traffic yesterday was only around half of this year’s busiest day, Saturday 8 August (972km), which itself was only supposed to be a lull day between the big getaway and the big return days.

The national Black Saturday, on 2 August, peaked at a mere 880km compared to the all-time record of 994km on the same day in 2014.

Meanwhile, as on many weekends before, considerable queues formed quite early this morning on the A7 north to Lyon and the day is already shaping up – and indeed, did shape up – to be a regular holiday traffic day, as opposed to a markedly quiet Sunday.

In general however, and as previously noted, the A7 Lyon-Avignon has seen much less traffic than usual, nowhere near the five hour delays of previous years.

Instead the undoubted ‘star’ road has been the A75 Clermont-Ferrand-Beziers. While many drivers are no doubt attracted to the spectacular Millau Viaduct in the south, the A75’s other main attraction is that it is one of the few toll-free French autoroutes.

The nearby and parallel A20 Limoges-Toulouse has been relatively free-flowing by comparison. Overall, however, the A10/A63 Paris-Bordeaux-Spain road has been consistently the busiest road in the country.

Over in Germany, the holiday season was supposed to come to an abrupt halt after the second week of August but it certainly hasn’t.

Despite week day rush hours returning to normal last week, heavy traffic has continued unabated for the past two weekends with the most congested section undoubtedly being the A8 between Munich and Salzburg.

As well as knocking off very early on a Friday, the German stereotype has been that drivers leave on their long trips after a late night or lie-in and a long, leisurely breakfast. Not this year: queues on the A8 have formed as early as they traditionally do in France, i.e. at day break, with the rest of the network not that far behind.

The big question is how this all leaves us for next year, especially as the French national traffic service Bison Fute enjoys its last year before being broken up to save cash.

Presuming that the traffic on these long range routes has little to do with the record-breaking fine weather this summer, the suspicion is that the French tradition of heading south for August is breaking down, and the previously rigid structure of changeover Saturdays.

Maybe, if the French economy recovers, drivers will return to their regular stamping ground, the A7 Lyon-Avignon.

If not, we are coming perhaps perilously close to recommending drivers take their pick of the finest August holidays in the South of France and enjoy relatively free-flowing roads on what used to be the worst days of the year.

Should present trends continue in Germany however, with roads jammed from first thing and then all day, perhaps it is best avoided all together until at least September.

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