Traffic levels rocketed today as lockdown restrictions were finally released to allow non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and barbers to open.

Motoring experts said it was the busiest day of the year as drivers took advantage of coronavirus restrictions being eased. Traffic data from TomTom showed increases on last week.

Non-essential shops, as well as pubs and restaurants have been allowed to reopen as infection rate fall and vaccination numbers rise.

Stores including Ikea and shopping centres proved popular as may got behind the wheel for a day at the shops. 

RAC Breakdown spokesman Simon Williams told MailOnline: ‘Monday looks like being the busiest day of the year so far on the roads as drivers take advantage of the further easing of coronavirus restrictions. 

Rushton Lakes shopping centre car park in Northamptonshire today as non-essential shops reopen

Rushton Lakes shopping centre car park in Northamptonshire today as non-essential shops reopen

Rushton Lakes shopping centre car park in Northamptonshire today as non-essential shops reopen

Shoppers vehicles fill the car park at Ikea in Croydon, south London, as it opens after lockdown

Shoppers vehicles fill the car park at Ikea in Croydon, south London, as it opens after lockdown

Shoppers vehicles fill the car park at Ikea in Croydon, south London, as it opens after lockdown

Queues outside Ikea as it reopens in Bristol as flat-pack fans mass to try and buy their wares

Queues outside Ikea as it reopens in Bristol as flat-pack fans mass to try and buy their wares

 Queues outside Ikea as it reopens in Bristol as flat-pack fans mass to try and buy their wares

Shoppers and motorists near Oxford Street on their way to the city's famous shops and stores

Shoppers and motorists near Oxford Street on their way to the city's famous shops and stores

Shoppers and motorists near Oxford Street on their way to the city’s famous shops and stores

‘Our research shows 2.3m leisure trip were planned with many packing up their cars for a late Easter staycation while others are just keen to do some non-essential shopping, get a haircut, go to the gym or see some friends in a pub garden.

‘Over the coming week we expect to see drivers make more than 7m leisure trips. 

‘And whatever people’s plans are, the car is almost certainly central to them with government statistics still showing a massive decline in public transport usage.

‘If drivers have not been using their vehicles much in recent months, we encourage them to check their tyre pressures as well as their oil and coolant levels to reduce the chances of a breakdown before they head back onto the roads.’ 

Shoppers pack Oxford Street, London, as Coronavirus lockdown measures were further eased across England today

Shoppers pack Oxford Street, London, as Coronavirus lockdown measures were further eased across England today

Shoppers pack Oxford Street, London, as Coronavirus lockdown measures were further eased across England today

Massive crowds were drawn to the London's most famous shopping street after months of only being able to shop online

Massive crowds were drawn to the London's most famous shopping street after months of only being able to shop online

Massive crowds were drawn to the London’s most famous shopping street after months of only being able to shop online

Customers queue to enter a re-opened Primark clothes shop in Liverpool, north west England, as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the country following England's third national lockdown on April 12

Customers queue to enter a re-opened Primark clothes shop in Liverpool, north west England, as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the country following England's third national lockdown on April 12

Customers queue to enter a re-opened Primark clothes shop in Liverpool, north west England, as coronavirus restrictions are eased across the country following England’s third national lockdown on April 12

Shoppers queue in crowd control barriers outside of a  Primark store in Stoke on Trent on April 12

Shoppers queue in crowd control barriers outside of a  Primark store in Stoke on Trent on April 12

Shoppers queue in crowd control barriers outside of a  Primark store in Stoke on Trent on April 12

People queue to enter Selfridges department store on Oxford Street in London earlier today

People queue to enter Selfridges department store on Oxford Street in London earlier today

People queue to enter Selfridges department store on Oxford Street in London earlier today

People queue outside Nike Town on Oxford Street as shops reopen after covid rules ease

People queue outside Nike Town on Oxford Street as shops reopen after covid rules ease

People queue outside Nike Town on Oxford Street as shops reopen after covid rules ease

Members of the public queue outside JD sports clothing shop in Oxford Street, London

Members of the public queue outside JD sports clothing shop in Oxford Street, London

Members of the public queue outside JD sports clothing shop in Oxford Street, London

What can you do from today? 

  • All non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen, as will hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms.
  • Pubs, restaurants and cafes can reopen for outdoor service, but will have to wait until at least May 17 to serve customers indoors.
  • Mass testing to be available, with everyone urged to take two tests per week.
  • New care home rules will allow residents to have two visitors, rather than just one.
  • Self-catering accommodation, including campsites, can reopen, but hotels and B&Bs must remain closed until at least May 17.
  • Shops will be allowed to stay open until 10pm, six days a week, in a bid to reduce crowding.
  • The maximum number of people allowed to attend weddings and wakes will rise from six to 15.
  • Public buildings can reopen, as can outdoor attractions such as theme parks and zoos.
  • Controversial hospitality rules such as the 10pm curfew and requirement to buy a ‘substantial meal’ with alcohol will be dropped.
  • Clothes shops will be allowed to reopen their changing rooms for the first time in more than a year.
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Road journeys in London at 8am on Monday took an average of 42% longer compared with free-flow conditions, according to location technology firm TomTom.

That is up from 32% at that time on April 6, the first working day of last week. 

Other cities to experience rises over the same period included Brighton (22% to 28%), Birmingham (22% to 27%), Bristol (25% to 33%), Manchester (27% to 37%) and Leeds (23% to 51%).

Stephanie Leonard, head of traffic innovation and policy at TomTom, commented: ‘This morning’s data shows a significant increase in traffic congestion on the roads, a sign that Covid-19 rules have eased across England.

‘This could demonstrate that while we are slowly beginning to return back to normality with non-essential retail opening, driving still remains the chosen choice of transport as we continue to navigate through the pandemic.’ 

Transport for London said demand for Tube and bus travel from the start of service until 10am on Monday was up 18 per cent and 15 per cent respectively compared with the same period last week. 

The number of passengers using Tube stations near shopping centres such as Oxford Street and Westfield Stratford City between 11am and noon was up 125 per cent. 

Footfall at all the UK’s retail destinations had risen 116 per cent by 3pm on Monday compared to the same time a week ago, according to figures from Springboard. 

Indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail salons, outdoor visitor attractions and self-contained accommodation providers all welcomed customers back on Monday. 

Train ticket retailer Trainline reported that bookings for travel this week are up 52% compared with last week, and 135% on the week beginning March 15.

The surge includes a rise in long-distance journeys.

Stations at beach destinations have seen some of the largest increases.

Popular locations include Blackpool; St Ives and Penzance, Cornwall; Clacton-on-Sea, Essex; and Brighton.

Data from TomTom showed a traffic increase from last week as motorists took to the roads

Data from TomTom showed a traffic increase from last week as motorists took to the roads

Data from TomTom showed a traffic increase from last week as motorists took to the roads

Journeys booked for peak weekday travel have also risen, suggesting more people are resuming their commute rather than working from home for the next few weeks and months.

The most popular city stations booked as a destination this week include London’s Euston, King’s Cross and Paddington stations, Manchester Piccadilly, Leeds, Birmingham New Street, Newcastle and York.

Meanwhile, a fault with the signalling system caused disruption to all routes in and out of London Liverpool Street. 

Pub and hospitality bosses have said they will ‘not get too excited’ despite pouring pints for customers for the first time in more than three months.

People walk at Oxford Street, as the coronavirus restrictions ease, in London, April 12

People walk at Oxford Street, as the coronavirus restrictions ease, in London, April 12

People walk at Oxford Street, as the coronavirus restrictions ease, in London, April 12

Members of the public seen walking with their shopping on April 12 in London

Members of the public seen walking with their shopping on April 12 in London

Members of the public seen walking with their shopping on April 12 in London

Industry leaders have called for caution, warning that the sector’s recovery will take a long time, while more than half of venues remain shut due to ongoing restrictions.

Around 38 per cent of licensed premises in the UK have the outdoor space needed to reopen today, according to figures from CGA and Alix Partners.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young’s, said the London-based pub group is still awaiting the next dates on the Government’s road map despite reopening around 140 pubs.

‘Today is just a very small step towards getting our business back to anywhere near viability,’ he said. 

‘However, let’s not get too excited as we still cannot serve indoors. Even on May 17, we will not be trading anywhere near normal.’ 

He said ‘we will get our lives back’ when the final phase of the road map takes place and all restrictions on trading are eased, putting pressure on the Government to stick to its schedule.

Mr Dardis said: ‘The key day for UK pubs, restaurants, the economy and jobs is ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21. 

‘What is for sure, we need the Prime Minister to honour his commitment to the nation to ensure that June 21 is indeed ‘Freedom Day’.

‘He must not be allowed to backtrack on that commitment.’ 

Roger Wade, founder and chief executive of Boxpark, said he was pleased to reopen sites but was critical of the decision to keep indoor hospitality shut and said more financial support may be needed for the sector.

He said: ‘Despite the difficult times our resilient industry has endured, we have remained optimistic and used this time to focus on progressing our future plans, as well as doing what we can to improve our current offering and visitor experience.

‘While it’s great to be opening our doors for the first time in months, the reopening of hospitality has been delayed for far too long – and it seems nonsensical to reopen non-essential shops before hospitality businesses can serve customers indoors.’