How many know what those road lines mean?
The average driver is often mystified by the most basic traffic guidelines: painted pavement lines.
Here are some basic rules and some not-so-well understood meanings of traffic-line law.
White lines separate traffic travelling in the same direction.
When the white line separating traffic lanes is solid, it is not legal to cross such a line to change lanes. These solid white lines often precede an intersection with a marked crosswalk. Vehicular traffic is forbidden to change lanes for the protection and safety of the pedestrians wishing to cross the street in the crosswalk.
These solid lines also discourage lane-changing in an intersection, which is not technically illegal, but unsafe all the same. It is very important for vehicle drivers to stay in their lane when crossing an intersection. Visibility for left turners is often limited and vehicles that pass on the right side in particular are hidden from oncoming cars, bikes and pedestrians. Solid white lines are also painted on dramatic road curves to prevent blind-corner passes and lane changes.
When a white solid line separates the through lane from the road shoulder, drivers are not permitted to pass other traffic on the right. Where no such white solid line exists, separating through traffic from the road shoulder, all traffic is legally permitted to pass on the right, if obstructed or delayed by a left turning vehicle, provided it does not leave the normal paved portion of the road. It is legal but unsafe, except at a greatly reduced speed.
Drivers are not permitted by law to merge onto a highway by crossing a solid white line, or in other words merge earlier than coming to a broken or dashed white line. The same rule applies when leaving a freeway.
Drivers are not permitted to exit the freeway until there is a broken line or there is a clearly visible exit lane. Drivers are also not legally able to infringe on a bike lane designated by parallel white solid lines except to enter or exit a parking space. They must wait until there is a dashed white line formation in order to turn or change lanes, enter or leave the road.
Crosswalk lines are also white in colour. Solid crosswalk lines are placed at intersections where there is a stop sign or a red traffic light configuration. Intermittent (or commonly referred to as “zebra”) white lines are painted on the road to designated those intersections at which pedestrians cross the street where no stop sign or red traffic light exits. Many municipalities, for whatever reasons of incompetence, are known to reverse this manner of painting crosswalk lines on the road. I know of one northern town which painted all the crosswalk lines improperly. Visitors to the village were consistently driving through stop signs, thinking that the “zebra” crossings were accurately reflecting the lack of the necessity of a complete stop at those intersections.
Yellow lines separate the opposite flow of traffic. A yellow solid line means pass with extra caution. This is probably the most misunderstood driving rule. Only a solid yellow line accompanied by another parallel yellow centre line, broken or solid designates a no-passing situation. Vehicles with the dashed line on their side of the middle yellow lines may pass if safe to do so. A double-solid yellow-line formation means absolutely no passing. Many drivers think it is illegal to cross doublesolid yellow centre lines in order to make a left turn in or out of a residence or business. This is untrue. It is allowable.
It is not legal to drive on yellow “zebra” median markers. These markers usually precede left-turn lanes.
Painted pavement lines are meant to help us in our travels. Pay heed and proceed.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Central Interior of B.C. He is a certified teacher and the former Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas.