Do’s and don’ts on Black Saturday
July, 24 2019 | Update: 13/07/2021
No one wants to start their holiday off by sitting in a traffic jam for hours on end. Of course you can always choose to set off on a different day, but sometimes you don’t have any choice. For instance the accommodation you’ve booked might have fixed arrival days. I’ve compiled a few do’s and don’ts for the infamous Black Saturday in France, and also a few tips for if you do end up in a traffic jam.
A little history
But first, how did Black Saturday get its name? There are actually two reasons for the name Black Saturday. The first is very sad. One of the worst traffic accidents that ever happened in France, in 1982, was on a Saturday. A bus hit several passenger cars, and many people died, including many children. The busy Saturday was then referred to as ‘Black Saturday’. Buses carrying groups of children are still not allowed to drive on Black Saturday.
The name also derives from the colour system used by the French road safety organisation to indicate the amount of traffic. Black is the colour used to indicate when it’s extremely busy. It’s not just in France that you can expect the roads to be very busy on those Saturdays, but also southern Germany and the tunnels in the direction of Italy.
Black Saturdays 2021
In 2021, July 31 and August 7 have been designated black Saturdays in France. But count on crowds on all weekends (and usually Fridays) in July and August.
Do’s and don’ts on Black Saturday
So, what do you need to do to avoid the traffic jams? Here are the do’s:
- Decide to leave on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday.
- Do you need to leave on a black Saturday? Then don’t leave early in the morning, but later in the day. Then you’ll be driving after the traffic has cleared.
- Avoid the major motorways, such as the Autoroute du Soleil from Paris to Lyon and Marseille and pick a scenic route (only if the motorways are really busy, otherwise you’ll likely to taking a very long diversion).
- For France, you can find out how busy the roads are likely to be on a given day via the Bison Futé , the French traffic information service. Here you can find out how busy each region is likely to be, for both your outward and return journeys. You can also find out about alternative routes here. You can download a calendar with detailed information via the ‘Prévisions’ tab. You can also find alternative routes on this website. The information on the website is available in French, English and Spanish. You can also find out about alternative routes here.
- If you buy a toll badge in advance, then you can bypass the notorious traffic jams at the toll booths. You can buy a toll badge through various different websites.
- Plan your route so that you turn off the main road a few junctions before the big toll points. Follow your alternative route and rejoin the motorway after the major toll points.
- If you need petrol, get off the motorways – you’ll find petrol stations (and the toilets!) quieter. And another advantage is the petrol is often cheaper at petrol stations away from the motorways.
And what shouldn’t you do? Here are the don’ts:
- Don’t leave on a Black Saturday if you can avoid it (obviously!)
- Expect that you’ll have a clear run on any other Saturday in July and August. All of these days are busy, and your chances of ending up in a traffic jam remain huge.
- Leave on the Friday evening before a black Saturday – then you’ll just be arriving in France or Germany as the traffic jams start.
Traffic in Germany
Germany doesn’t really have a couple of black Saturdays like France does. Instead, you can count on heavy traffic every weekend throughout the summer. Particularly on Fridays (partly due to commuter traffic) and on Saturdays things can get really busy. On Sundays it tends to be quieter, partly because there’s no freight traffic on Sundays. A lot of the traffic is due to road works, so it’s not the case that traffic jams are always in the same places. This does make it more difficult to predict where it will be busy in Germany.
But there are plenty of places where it’s more or less guaranteed to get busy. In northern Germany, the A1 and A7 motorways are particularly notorious. In southern Germany that goes for the A3 (Frankfurt-Passau), A5 (Karlsruhe), A6 (Heidelberg-Heilbronn) and the A8 (Karlsruhe-Munich-Salzburg) And at the A99 ring road around Munich, there’s also a chance of long traffic jams. If it’s really busy, you can always spend a night at a stopover campsite. Although you probably won’t be the only one with that idea. If you can book before you leave home, you’ll have fewer worries on the road.
Tips for when you are in a traffic jam
And if you can’t avoid setting off on a Black Saturday and you end up in a traffic jam, I have a few tips for you too:
- Try to let the car cruise slowly (by leaving a generous space between you and the car in front of you). Starting from a standstill uses more petrol, is worse for the clutch and less pleasant for your passengers.
- Trucks provide shade – make use of this if you can.
- Ensure you have enough to drink, especially when it’s really hot. But keep in mind that drinking more means you’ll need more frequent toilet breaks.
- Make sure you have some things to keep the kids busy and prevent boredom. You could take small gifts for the kids to give them in traffic – that’ll cheer them up!
If you know you’re not going to reach your destination is a day, plan an overnight stay. Then you’ll be less tired in the evening, and you can start the next day fresh. But do book in advance, if it’s busy many people will want to break their trip with an overnight stay somewhere.
Have you planned an overnight stay in a large city? Take into account that there are environmental zones in some cities – you can find an overview here.
I hope these do’s and don’ts as well as the tips make Black Saturdays less painful. And don’t forget, you’re on holiday! So don’t let it stress you out too much!