Road Lines & Pavement Markings: Epic Stupid-Simple Guide

Road Lines Meaning

What do all the road lines mean? What’s the difference between yellow lines and white lines? Why are some lines solid and some broken?

All excellent questions. Let’s drive right in.

Road Lines – Colors

Let’s start off real simple with the different colors of beautiful road lines.

Yellow Road Lines Separate Traffic Moving in Opposite Directions

road lines
Yellow lines separate traffic moving in different directions

White Road Lines

White Lines separate traffic moving in the same direction

So where do we find these mysterious white road lines? Basically, we will find them anywhere the traffic is moving in the same direction. Commonly found at:

  • One-way streets
  • Freeways
  • Highways
  • HOV Lanes
  • Multi-lane roads

white road lines
White lines separate traffic moving in the same direction

The Yellow Road Line Should Always Be To Your Left

This is a generalization of course. But it’s true, that unless you are passing, or crossing this line to turn left, it should be to the left of you.

That’s how you know you’re on the ‘right’ side of the road! Omg

yellow road lines
I think you hear me

Sometimes, your car might ‘be’ on the other side of the yellow line.

For example, sometimes you might cross over the line in order to make a left turnOpens in a new tab..

Or sometimes you might be passing another vehicle on the highway. But in general, stay to the right of the yellow line.

For example, this car here is totally on the wrong side of the road. But hey let’s look at the bright side… at least it stopped for the red light; that’s good…!

Broken White Road Lines

Awe, broken lines? We’re all a little broken, aren’t we? Oh never mind, I will speak for myself

Broken, also known as dashed or dotted white road lines, mean that you’re allowed to change lanesOpens in a new tab.

when it’s safe.

broken white road lines

Check out the following photo of Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam.

Notice the white lines are separating traffic that is moving in the same direction.

The opposing traffic is ‘over there’ somewhere else. Again, it’s on the other side of the boulevard; I guess that’s the only kind of road I know how to take photos of.

Notice the yellow line on the far left hand side of this picture, indicating the opposite direction will be found on the other side of this line.

Not that you would drive into that ditch to cross it or something like that, but yellow lines can remind us that on the other side of it, a head-on collision would be waiting.

broken white road lines canada
Lougheed Highway, Coquitlam
BC broken white lines

Solid White Road Lines

Solid white road lines means: Do not change lanes.

solid white road line canada

They are there for a reason. These are usually found on the approach to intersections, crosswalks, and certain other spots.

Changing lanes in the middle or before an intersection is dangerousOpens in a new tab., so these lines are here discouraging the action.

solid white road lines don't lane change
Don’t Do It

This is exactly the kind of thing that sometimes fails people while on their road test.

Why is it bad to lane change on a solid white line? Well, the vehicle changing lanes can potentially block the view of pedestrians to other drivers.

Also, the driver planning a lane change tends to do things like check their mirror(s) and do a shoulder check.

That’s nice, but not if it means you’re taking your eyes off the road – if even for a moment – when there’s a pedestrian about to go across the crosswalk.

Pedestrians can be unpredictable, – especially younger ones – and can sometimes ‘appear out of no where.’ Just not a good time to be planning a lane change.

When approaching crosswalks, drivers really should be checking it, and scanning both ends of it to actively look for pedestrians.

That is your one job in that moment; not spending that time planning a lane change.

Single solid yellow road line

Ah yes, the single solid yellow road line. At least someone is solid around here.

canada road lines

If you’re driving on a highway or road and you have only one solid yellow line, you are allowed to pass another vehicle at your discretion. Not the best photo here, but you get the idea.


Broken yellow road line

Passing is allowed over these broken yellow lines.

Keep in mind, you never ‘have to’ pass another vehicle. You could also just be patient and enjoy the scenery.

Passing is an advanced skill.

The dotted line can rather suddenly switch back to a double solid yellow line. I mean, time flies when you’re driving 100 km/hr if you know what I mean.

Keep that in mind when planning, and looking far ahead up the road while driving.

If you’re not sure it’s safe, simply don’t do it. There is no rush. Take your time and be safe.

broken yellow road lines
yukon broken lines
Beautiful Yukon, Canada

double yellow solid road lines

double yellow solid road lines ICBC

Here are the lines where it is positively illegal to pass another vehicle.

The lines are in place because it’s simply not safe to overtake another vehicle on a particular road, or stretch of the road.

This is usually due to visibility – or other – important safety issues, like hills, curves, blind driveways, trucks.

You may think it looks fine, but trust that traffic engineers have assessed every inch of road. Road lines are not painted haphazardly.


yukon road lines
Beautiful Yukon, Canada

a solid yellow road line with a broken yellow road line

If the solid road line is closest to you, it is illegal for you to pass

broken and solid lines together

This happens when one half of the road (one direction of traffic) has good visibility, and the other direction doesn’t.

Is this a thing? Yes. You’d think they would both be the same, but it isn’t the case.

Think about it. When you walk down the road for a while, you see a certain view in front of you, right?

If you were to turn around suddenly and go back the opposite direction, is the view the same?

Many times it is a completely different scene. This is why we need to respect the lines and trust that they are here to keep us safe.

We may not know what’s up the road, but the engineers (smart people) who designed the roads and the line patterns for us, do.

yellow road lines
wildlife on road

Double Yellow Broken Road Lines

A lane surrounded by yellow broken lines is reversible. Think of it just like your reversible hoodie, sweatshirt, or reversible rain jacket, or sleeping bag, maybe?

reversible lane

It can go one way, or it can go the other way. Drivers must watch for overhead signals to determine direction. These are a bit less common than the other types of road lines.

Lane Control Signals

Here are the lane control signals that go together with the reversible lane, almost like wine and cheese. They will be posted above the reversible lane.

lane control signals

Two-way Left Turn Lane

This is another somewhat uncommon lane. It’s a shared left-turning lane. So, drivers in both directions can use this lane to turn left.

2 way left turn lane

White Stop Line

This is commonly seen at crosswalks and at stop signs, reminding drivers to stop.

white stop line
white stopping line

Crosswalk Pavement Markings

There are several different designs for crosswalks. In any case, drivers must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

crosswalk pavement markings

Pavement Markings For Turns

These pavement markings mean that you must go in the direction of the arrow.

pavement markings for turns

Since these are pavement markings, sometimes you can’t see them because, well, there are vehicles stopped on top of them. This happens when waiting for a red light, for example.

In that case, you can look above you or around you for the equally informative lane use signs; which, let’s be honest, you kinda should be looking for anyways.

lane use signs

Painted Island Pavement Markings

painted island

We are not supposed to drive on painted islands.

painted island

Reserved Lanes

No, unfortunately you can not call ahead and reserve this lane for 7:00 pm.

HOV or high occupancy vehicles can use these lanes, as well as buses, motorcycles, cyclists; some lanes even allow electric vehicles. Check for signs and markings that let drivers know who can use the lane, and when.

General cars aren’t allowed in the lane, unless there is a sign indicating the times.

reserved lane

Bicycle Lanes

Bikes must travel the same direction as the vehicles on their side of the road.

pavement markings – Pop Quiz

How Can Pavement Markings indicate that you are driving in the right direction?

Pop Quiz! If you are driving on this one-way ramp and you see these lines, which direction should the car be going? Is it traveling toward us or away from us? 

pavement markings showing you are driving in the right direction

If you guessed this way, then you’re correct

Remember that the yellow road line should be on your left. If the yellow line is on your right, then you’re on the wrong side of the road.

This is how pavement markings can indicate that you are driving in the right direction.

yellow and white road lines
driving the wrong direction

Lines on Private Property

Please note that on private property these guidelines may differ. For example, there might be a white line separating traffic moving in opposite directions (normally we would expect a yellow line for this).

Brentwood Mall parking lot in Burnaby comes to mind. I’m not sure if it’s just temporary because it’s under construction?

Brentwood Mall parking lot has a solid white line here which separates traffic moving in different directions, which is weird.

So just be aware that owners of private property can pretty much do whatever they want in terms of road lines, road signs, etc.

Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon in parking lots/private property? Thanks for confusing everyone!

Oh Brentwood Mall, Why are you doing this!

Check Out The ICBC Learn To Drive Smart ManualOpens in a new tab.

Question: Can you drive across lines in a parking lot?

I Don’t Think There’s A Law Against It…. Should You? That’s The Question.

Parking lots come in as the second most common place where collisions occur (after intersections).

These aren’t collisions where cars are bursting into flames. But, reducing or eliminating these would be nice.

What do we have in parking lots, aside from parked cars?

  • People walking
  • Children
  • Dogs
  • Shopping carts
  • Cement
  • Posts
  • Other cars reversing and going forward
  • Unpredictable speeds
  • Unpredictable situations
  • Poor visibility when reversing out of a space (poor visibility in general)

There’s a lot going on here. Driving over the lines in a parking lot is not recommended.

There is no law against driving over the lines here.

However, other drivers (and other people in general) may not be able to see you or anticipate you.

This can turn into unwanted surprises. Surprises are generally not good when driving!

People have a lot to think about, and adding an extra component of traffic cutting across lines and appearing suddenly will not help the overall level of safety for everyone in parking lots.

If you’re in an empty parking lot, and it won’t matter to anybody if you drive over the lines, then go for it if you must (carefully of course).

Consider where the entrances are into the parking lot and consider any other blind or hidden driveways or areas where you may be surprising someone.

Just because there’s no one else here at a particular moment, doesn’t mean they won’t be there in two seconds; keep that in mind.

It’s a public space isn’t it? We must share and we must anticipate fellow humans.

Stay in the lanes whenever possible. Being predictable is just one of the many characteristics of a safe driver.

Hope this all made sense


Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada.

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