Traffic delays fell by a quarter last year due to lockdown

Congestion around the UK fell by a quarter in 2020 due to the wide-ranging impact of national and regional lockdowns.

New traffic data from location specialists TomTom has revealed the dramatic effect the Covid-19 outbreak and associated travel restrictions have had on driver behaviour in the last 12 months.

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Across the year, the average congestion levels dropped 24 per cent but at the height of lockdown they fell by more than three-quarters (79 per cent) as all but key workers stayed at home.

The TomTom Traffic Index showed that after starting at similar levels to 2019, traffic levels plunged in March as the entire country was placed in lockdown and all non-essential businesses closed.

Edinburgh proved to be the UK's most congested city for a fourth year (Photo: Shutterstock)

The average reduction in congestion across the 25 UK cities studied was 24 per cent but rush hour hold-ups fell by a more significant 35 per cent over the course of the year and a huge 78 per cent during April.

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Edinburgh remained the UK’s most congested city for the fourth consecutive year, with hold-ups even worse in the Scottish capital than in London. Despite a 22 per cent drop in congestion levels, the busiest periods on Edinburgh’s roads meant a 32 per cent longer journey time for drivers, compared to 31 per cent for Londoners.

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On a global scale, Edinburgh was the 43 most congested city in the world, while London was 49th.

Preston was revealed to be the least congested city in the country, with a traffic index congestion rating of 16 per cent.

(Data: TomTom)

Stephanie Leonard, head of traffic innovation and policy at TomTom, warned that the data suggested traffic levels are rising once again and rush hour could return in earnest unless action is taken to encourage a change in work and lifestyle, including embracing working from home long-term.

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She said: “Early last year we announced that congestion levels were rising in the UK, and the country was moving in the wrong direction, but then everything changed in March 2020. Driven by the global pandemic, the UK saw a massive drop in traffic levels. From lockdowns to closed borders, people movement changed – and it changed very fast. Rush hour, once the bane of drivers and traffic planners, disappeared almost overnight as office workers set up their home offices.”

“However, we shouldn’t expect UK roads to remain quiet forever. As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be created and industrialised, we may see traffic levels shoot up again – as people get back to work and back into old routines.

“Unless there’s a concerted and deliberate change in driver behaviour, supported by policy makers and employers, we’re unlikely to see a permanent end to the rush hour. That’s why we need action from UK city planners, policy makers, employers and drivers to ensure flexible working hours, working from home, and a smart approach to using traffic data to determine the best travel times.”

The data also showed a stark change in behaviour between lockdowns. On the day before the first national lockdown (March 22), the highest congestion rates were 14 per cent (in Edinburgh, 12 per cent (Brighton and Hove) and 10 per cent (Reading). By contrast, on the day before the second English lockdown (November 4), London, Brighton and Hove, and Hull saw their congestion rates soar by 58, 52 and 47 per cent respectively as people rushed to shops to get supplies and left the major cities in large numbers.