Tips to avoid traffic madness this holiday season

The joys of Christmas are just around the corner, but for many city-dwellers that means more traffic congestion as you head away for a holiday. 

Hundreds of thousands of Kiwis will take to the highways in the lead-up to the New Year trying to escape large centres in their cars heading for rural paradise. 

To avoid the usual traffic congestion, AA principal infrastructure advisor Barney Irvine says you have to think about your trip in advance and try to get away a bit earlier if you can. 

"Between Christmas and the New Year, pretty much every day is going to be bad leaving the city," he told RadioLIVE on Wednesday. 

"And then the first five or six days of the New Year, getting back to the city is going to be bad during those hotspots of around 10am to 4pm."

The worst traffic congestion, he says, will be on the highway north of Auckland around Warkworth as well as the southern highway toward Takanini and also SH2 towards the Coromandel. 

In Wellington, it's the Kapiti Coast that will likely host the most congestion, Mr Irvine adds. And in Christchurch he recommends avoiding the northern motorway. 

"Be aware that congestion is going to be pretty bad, particularly around Auckland, on most days of the holidays, and be prepared to travel a bit earlier or a bit later to try and avoid the worst of it."

When asked why passing lanes are sometimes blocked off during peak traffic, Mr Irvine said it's a tactic used by authorities to control impatient people making things worse. 

"What it stems from is a situation where you have really heavy build-ups of traffic and you end up with this crazy situation where people are queued up and not moving anywhere very fast and then they spot a passing lane.

"They jump into the passing lane, zooming down, passing a few people off and annoying all of them, but then they have to merge with the traffic again, and that's where the difficulty is."

Once the driver starts merging with the traffic again, it "just sends this ripple of delay right back, and that's delay on top of delay," Mr Irvine adds. 

"It might look a bit foolish when they're putting these cones out when traffic's still moving, and it seems like further delays are being added, but the logic behind it is sound."

Beating traffic comes down to controlling what you can control, Mr Irvine says. 

"If you know, for instance, that between 10am and 4pm Takanini is going to be really bad leaving Auckland for the next week or so, then leave a bit earlier if you can or a bit later to avoid the worst of it and you can avoid that feeling of helplessness."

Another important aspect to remember when driving this holiday season is keeping safe on the roads. 

As of November, New Zealand's road toll was nearing the record heights reached in 2017, sitting at 324, just one behind 325 at the same time last year. In 2017, 64 people died on Auckland roads and an additional 749 were seriously injured.   

The Government is set to spend $1.4 billion on road safety improvements, under a three-year programme will aim to make 870km of high-volume, high-risk state highways safer by 2021.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter say it will prevent an estimated 160 deaths and serious injuries a year, with median and side barriers, rumble strips and shoulder widening all on the table. 

About half will go towards state highways, with the rest on local roads, and Mr Irvine says the AA isn't too pleased about that. 

"By and large we are really pleased to see more investment going into safety and a lot of the measures make good sense," he said. 

"But there are still some questions for us right around the country about whether we're doing enough in terms of highway construction, because if safety is the number one priority, then you can't go wrong with a quality piece of road infrastructure.

"We just don't want to see them shut up shop on that type of investment too quickly and there is that concern from our membership right around the country."

The National Party has criticised the Government's announcement, saying the investment pales in comparison to its roads of national significance programme.