The Worst Time to Drive This Christmas

3 minute read

It may be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but that’s hardly true for drivers. Traffic, accidents, and poor driving conditions await those hapless highway-drivers among us this week. Fortunately, the Information Age is bearing better tidings every year. This holiday season, it’s coming in the form of more accurate traffic reports.

More than 100 million Americans will travel between December 23 and January 3, according to the AAA, the first time the number has crossed that threshold. If that sounds bad, this is worse: More than 90% of those revelers will be behind the wheel, up 1.4% over last year. Then factor in rain forecasted across the Midwest and Northeast midweek followed by a Friday Christmas, and all bets are off in terms of estimating accurate travel times.

But Waze is willing to hazard a guess. A crowdsourced traffic app backed by Google’s high-powered analytics, Waze tracks its users as they go to and fro, letting them flag traffic impediments for their fellow drivers. It’s a great tool for seeing why you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And when you try to go around the snarl, Waze’s GPS functionality can also help make sure you don’t get lost.

According to Waze, which has drawn this insight from its 2014 road congestion reports, the best time to travel during the holidays is on Christmas Day itself, Dec. 25. Surprisingly, last year the roads had below average-traffic on Christmas, though last-minute travelers likely had higher levels of anxiety wondering if Santa knew where they’d be on the big day.

And being early doesn’t help much, says Waze. This year, the worst day to travel will be Wednesday, Dec. 23. So if you were thinking of cutting out of work early, reconsider. Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., you’re not going to make much of any progress, so just work late that night and get on the office ‘nice’ list (or work from home). And you can’t even beat the rush: Cars start crawling along the highway as early as 11 a.m. that morning.

Waiting a day won’t help either. Christmas Eve will be a dreadful time to be in your one-horse open sleigh, starting at noon and extending all the way through Thursday evening.

The return trip also offers surprises, none of which are particularly delightful. Waze cites Sunday, Dec. 27 as the worst day to escape the family. On that day, the company estimates it will send 87% more traffic jam alerts, flag 14% more accidents, identify 23% more road hazards, and display 33% more police notifications.

Instead, Monday before noontime is the best time to head back. That means if you’re working that day, shower up, get dressed, and aim to get to the office on time. Not only will you beat the crowd, but you’ll be at the workshop ready to make next year’s toys for all the little boys and girls.

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