Road Lines & Pavement Markings – The Complete Guide

road lines

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 get right into it from a beautiful British Columbia, Canada perspective. Check out my YouTube channelOpens in a new tab. for fresh videos.

Jump to a section:

  1. Yellow Road Lines
  2. White Road Lines
  3. The Yellow Line Should Always Be To Your Left
  4. Broken White Road Lines
  5. Solid White Road Lines
  6. Single Solid Yellow Road Lines
  7. Broken Yellow Road Line
  8. Double Yellow Solid Road Lines
  9. Solid With Broken Yellow Lines
  10. Double Broken Yellow Lines
  11. Lane Control Signals
  12. Two-Way Left Turn Lane
  13. White Stop Line
  14. Crosswalk Pavement Markings
  15. Pavement Markings For Turns
  16. Painted Island Pavement Markings
  17. Reserved Lanes
  18. Bicycle Lanes
  19. Pop Quiz
  20. Lines on Private Property
  21. Can You Drive Across Lines in a Parking Lot?

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.

yellow road lines

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 Lines

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… ha ha.

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 close to your homeOpens in a new tab.).

These may not be 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, defensive driver.

Turning Left Across Yellow Lines

Everyone knows that you can turn left and right at intersections, but you might wonder if you can also turn left across yellow lines into a driveway, for example. The rules about this may be different depending on where in the world, country, province, state we are talking about. For Beautiful British Columbia, the short answer is, yes you basically can, as long as you aren’t impeding traffic.

So, can I turn left across yellow lines?

The short answer: Maybe 

I hate to be annoying, but this isn’t quite a yes or no answer. If I simply told you yes or no, I might be lying.

From the ICBC Drive Smart manual

Don’t take it from me, read it from ICBC itself. The following is from the ICBC Learn to Drive Smart manual. Opens in a new tab.

Turns in the middle of a blockOpens in a new tab.

left across yellow lines

Notice how it doesn’t say ‘Do not turn left’

Should you, though?

The next question of course is, well, should you do it? I mean, we can send a bunch of humans to the MarsOpens in a new tab. to start a new colony there… but… should we? It’s questions for the universe.

Personally, I just stick to turning at intersections whenever I can. This is because I know that other drivers will expect me to be there. Turning left across yellow lines could potentially be dangerous.

Lately, I’m just not in the mood for any extra hassle.

And often, you can ask yourself if there’s a better way. This can be done by planning your route in advance to include only intersection turns. Or, to include a right turn rather than a left one.

Consider, too, that any resulting collision would more than likely be at least half your fault. Any statement starting with, “I was turning left…” Probably won’t end well. Just something to think about.

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Carmen became a driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, Canada and is an experienced writer, blogger, photographer, artist, philosopher, certified day dreamer and generally complicated human.

34 thoughts on “Road Lines & Pavement Markings – The Complete Guide

  1. It’s really interesting to learn about the process for lines marking. I was surprised to read some of the equipment that’s necessary for marking lines. When I was reading through this, I expected to see a road marking machine, but I didn’t know that gas, rope, chisels, traffic lights, cleaning equipment, and small tools would be used for this process. Thanks for posting this

  2. I was traveling on a highway in Nevada, I was behind a semi going 55mph in a 70mph zone. I noticed it was safe to pass (someone in front of me just did this as well) so I started to pass the semi, about 3/4 of the way passing the semi the dotted line changed to solid and I continued to pass the semi and pass safely infront of the semi. I got pulled over from a trooper sitting on the hill saying I passed in a solid area that I was suppose to slow down and get back behind the semi. I told the officer/trooper I was almost pass the semi when the dotted line changed to a solid. I looked in the drivers manuals pages for Nevada but nothing says my scenario. Seems like I was singled out for something near a small town with out of state plates on my vehicle. Can anyone show me where this is illegal? My violation says passing on a solid yellow no pass zone. Which again nothing says dotted line passing that turned to solid line 3/4 of the way pass a semi.

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