Welcome to Road Lines & Pavement Markings
Road Lines Meaning
Understanding road lines matters; not only to be able to pass pesky tests in order to get your driver’s license and resultant freedom, but also to, you know, stay out of trouble while you are driving, and get from A to B in one piece.
A driver’s confusion about the road lines could be dangerous; nobody wants to see flashing red and blue lights after they make a move, or worse – morph into a malfunction in the junction. In this guide, we’ll dive into the road line meanings from a beautiful British Columbia (Canadian) perspective. For a similar article, check out my epic article about the Road Signs of Canada or How to Drive Defensively and Prevent Collisions.
Table of Contents
Road Lines – Colours
The road lines themselves carry meaning, of course, and so do the different colours. Simply put, yellow road lines are used to separate traffic moving in opposite directions. White lines are used to separate traffic moving in the same direction.
Yellow Road Lines Separate Traffic Moving in Opposite Directions
White Road Lines
White Lines Separate Traffic Moving in the Same Direction
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
- HOV Lanes
- Multi-lane roads
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. Literally.
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 turn.
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 Jeep here is totally on the wrong side of the road. But hey let’s look at the bright side, at least it stopped at the red light; that does count for something if you ask me.
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 lanes when it’s safe. And as a reminder, white road lines separate traffic moving in the same direction.
Check out the following photo of Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam.
Notice the white lines separate 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 somewhere 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.
Solid White Road Lines
Solid white road lines simply mean: Do not change lanes. As a reminder, white lines separate traffic moving in the same direction.
These solid white lines are there for a reason. They are usually found on the approach to intersections, crosswalks, and certain other areas where there may have been a history of crashes. This is to prevent lane changing and thus hopefully reduce or eliminate the amounts of incidents at those locations.
Changing lanes in the middle or before an intersection is dangerous, so these lines are here discouraging the action. And since you’re wondering, changing lanes in an intersection is not technically illegal in British Columbia because there is no law written against it; but of course, that’s no good reason to 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. Check out my epic guide to Lane Changing While Driving.
- 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 nowhere.” Just not a good time to be planning a lane change.
- When approaching crosswalks, drivers really should be checking them, and scanning both ends of it to actively look for pedestrians. That is your one job at that moment; not spending that time looking in your mirrors or otherwise planning a lane change.
Single Solid Yellow Road Lines
Ah yes, the single solid yellow road line. At least someone is solid around here.
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. A lot of people seem to think passing isn’t allowed, but it’s technically allowed over one solid line. You can also turn left across this line into a driveway, lane, parking lot, or somewhere else.
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.
Double Yellow Solid Road Lines
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, and trucks.
- You may think it looks fine, but trust that traffic engineers have assessed every inch of the road. Road lines are not painted haphazardly. Quite calculated.
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
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 in 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.
Double Yellow Broken Road Lines
A lane surrounded by yellow broken lines is reversible. Think of it just like your reversible hoodie, sweatshirt, reversible rain jacket, or sleeping bag, maybe?
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.
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.
White Stop Line
This is commonly seen at crosswalks and at stop signs, reminding drivers to stop. It may or may not always have a stop sign with it, but it means stop nonetheless.
Crosswalk Pavement Markings
There are several different designs for crosswalks. In any case, drivers must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Pavement Markings For Turns
These pavement markings mean that you must go in the direction of the arrow.
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.
Painted Island Pavement Markings
We are not supposed to drive on painted islands.
No, unfortunately, you can not call ahead and reserve this lane for 7:00 pm… Omg I’m so funny.
HOV or high occupancy vehicles can use these lanes, as well as buses, motorcycles, and 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.
Bikes must travel in 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?
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.
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!
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. For a similar article, check out my detailed write-up of Right-of-Way in the Parking Lot.
Parking lots come in as the second most common place where collisions occur (after intersections close to your home –> link to a study which found that experienced drivers crashed more often close to their homes. Inexperienced drivers didn’t.)
These may not be collisions where cars are bursting into flames. But, reducing or eliminating these would still be nice.
What do we have in parking lots, aside from parked cars?
- People walking
- Shopping carts
- Other cars reversing and going forward
- Unpredictable speeds
- Unpredictable situations
- Poor visibility when reversing out of 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. Check out my full article on how to be a safe, defensive driver.
34 thoughts on “Road Lines & Pavement Markings – The Ultimate Guide”
Is it legal to enter and leave the HOV lane on Highway 1 over the solid white line?
Hi. No, it’s illegal to cross the solid white line.
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 www.brighterlines.com
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.