Motorways are becoming more crowded, according to transport department figures released on Thursday.
The M6 Toll motorway is raising prices
Motorway traffic rose by an estimated 4% during April, May and June 2004 compared with the same period in 2003.
During the whole of 2003 the rise in traffic - 0.3% - was much less than the average over the past decade.
And from Monday - eight months after the UK's only pay-as-you-go motorway, the M6 Toll, opened - its operator, Midland Expressway, is raising prices.
Traffic on all roads rose by an estimated 2% during April, May and June 2004 compared with the same period in 2003, according to the figures.
But the rise in light van and
goods vehicle traffic was twice as high.
UK ROADS - THE FACTS
Heaviest traffic levels in Europe
Motorists earn the government an estimated £42bn a year
Eight out of 10 people expect congestion to get worse
Motorways are statistically the safest roads
Eight out of 10 motorists say they cannot do without their car
In 2003, traffic levels rose by just 0.8% compared with 2002 - 1.1% on major roads and 0.6% on minor - making the roads 9% busier than in 1997, when Labour came to power.
During the same 12-month period, goods vehicle traffic rose by 0.4% and light van traffic by 5.2%.
But two-wheeled motor vehicle traffic rose more than any other category, with an
estimated increase of 10.4%.
Motorways carried 19% of all traffic in England, 14% in Scotland and 12% in Wales.
Britain's busiest section of motorway was the M25 between junctions 13 and 14 near Heathrow airport, with up to 196,000 vehicles a day.
The next busiest motorways were the M60 around Manchester, the M1, M27 between Southampton and Portsmouth, M6 south of Manchester, and M62 east of the Pennines.
The M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh was Scotland's busiest motorway, with a maximum of 167,000 vehicles a day - a 10% rise on 2002.
The busiest month for traffic in Britain was August, the busiest day was Friday, and the busiest time was between 5pm and 6pm on a weekday.
The quietest month was February, the quietest day Sunday, and the quietest time between 3am and 5am on a Sunday morning.
From Monday, the peak-time cost for a motorcycle on the M6 Toll, which by-passes north Birmingham, will rise to £2, while the cost for cars will rise from £2 to £3 and for vans to £6.
Midland Expressway said the motorway, which stretches across the West
Midlands for 27 miles, had seen record traffic levels in July as drivers sought to avoid roadworks on surrounding routes.
A spokesman said jams on the M6 north of Birmingham had helped the route attract a daily average of more than 55,000 vehicles.
Managing director Tom Fanning said: "More and more people are choosing to use this stress-free route and see its
benefits as value for money."
The building of the M6 Toll followed recommendations by transport consultants to the government at the beginning of 2002 to widen the M6 motorway to four lanes in both directions.
Their plans, which called for extra lanes over a 50-mile stretch, were not adopted.