Pavement Markings
Standard Road Line Markings

Stadard Markings and Pavement Lines for Navigating The Roads

Updated Oct. 22, 2020

Most pavement markings you will encounter are painted lines, or patterns formed with painted lines. A great deal of information is held in these simple markings. Painted pavement lines are used to regulate traffic flow, define lanes, reinforce road signs or cordon off parts of the roadway which drivers must avoid.

You can determine the meaning of pavement lines based on:

  • The color of the line.
  • Whether the line is solid or broken.
  • Where the line is positioned.
  • Whether it appears alone or with other lines.

Nearly all pavement markings are yellow or white. The following color rules apply in relation to lane dividing lines:

  1. 1

    Yellow lines separate lanes of traffic traveling in opposite directions.

  2. 2

    White lines separate lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction.

Yellow center lines

This term can be a little confusing, as “center” lines are not always located in the exact mid-point of the roadway. Opposing streams of traffic will always be separated by a single or double yellow line. When traveling the right way along a two-way street, the yellow center line will be on your left. If you notice yellow dividing lines on your right, you are traveling in the wrong direction.

In addition to separating streams of traffic, yellow center lines communicate other information about how that roadway should be used. Check out the yellow center line meanings below.

Solid yellow centerline

A solid yellow line to your left means that you may not cross over to use the left-hand lane to pass another vehicle. An easy way to remember this rule is to think of the solid line as an impenetrable barrier. Only in extreme circumstances (if crossing a solid yellow centerline is the only way to avoid an accident or collision), can drivers disregard this rule.

Broken yellow centerline

Broken yellow lines have gaps and therefore do allow traffic to cross, unlike solid lines. Motorists may use the lane to their left to pass another vehicle, when a broken yellow centerline is present, if they can do so safely. Remember, passing is always a risky business.

Double yellow centerline

Most roadways are split by a double yellow line. In many cases, one line will be broken while the other is solid. This indicates that “limited” passing is allowed. To interpret these pavement markings, remember this simple rule:

  • The line on your side of the road refers to traffic in your lane.
  • The furthest yellow line governs opposing traffic.

So, if one line is broken and the other is solid, only traffic beside the broken line may use the adjacent lane for passing. When both lines are broken, both streams of traffic are permitted to cross over. If both lines are solid, passing is prohibited for drivers on both sides.

Drivers may only cross double solid lines if it is necessary to make a left turn or a U-turn (providing U-turns are not prohibited by road signs). However, if the solid lines are more than two feet apart, you may not cross over for any reason. Double yellow lines with this wide spacing should be thought of as solid lane dividers.

Yellow lines on multi-lane roads

What happens if you encounter a road with multiple lanes of traffic on the right-hand side of a yellow center line? Understanding how each lane should be used is fairly straight-forward:

When there is one lane of traffic to the right of the yellow line, drivers must remain in that lane unless they need to pass, turn left or avoid a hazard on their side of the road.

When there are two lanes of traffic to the right of the yellow line, drivers should occupy the right-hand lane, using the lane closest to the yellow line to pass, avoid hazards or make way for vehicles entering the road from the right.

When there are three lanes of traffic to the right of the yellow line, drivers should occupy the furthest right lane (if driving at a steady pace below the speed limit or preparing to exit the road). Use the center or left-hand lane when passing or making way for other vehicles. Keep in mind that on some roads, the furthest left lane may be reserved for public transport vehicles or high occupancy vehicles (HOV).

Center left-turn lane markings

Many busy multi-lane roads have two lanes of traffic on either side, sandwiching a center left-turn lane in the middle. This special-use lane must only be occupied by drivers making a left turn or entering the street from a driveway or side alley. Center left-turn lanes can be used by drivers traveling in both directions. Motorists must not:

  • Travel in the center left-turn lane
  • Enter the center left-turn lane too soon before they intend to turn. In most states, drivers may not enter the center left-turn lane more than 200 feet prior to their turn off – check your state’s driving manual for local information.

Both sides of center left-turn lanes are marked by double yellow lines. The outer line is solid, indicating that vehicles may not enter the lane to pass another vehicle. The inner line yellow line is broken, indicating that vehicles may merge or turn out of the lane. You may also encounter left-facing arrow markings in center left-turn lanes, providing another clue to their use.

Reversible lane markings

Busy thoroughfares often have reversible lanes to manage rush hour traffic. The way these lanes may be used is altered at different times of the day and will be dictated by traffic signals posted above the lane. These signals – and how they should be interpreted – are covered in the “Traffic Signals” section. Here is a summary.

  • A green arrow means you may drive in the reversible lane.
  • A red “X” means driving in the reversible lane is prohibited.
  • A flashing yellow “X” means the reversible lane may only be used for turning.
  • A steady yellow “X” means use of the lane is about to change.

Reversible lanes are most often marked on both sides with double broken yellow lines. In some cases, the outer line may be solid – as with center left-turn lanes. When the outer line is solid, the use of the lane will be made clear with bi-directional arrows painted at regular intervals along the center of the lane.

White lane dividing lines

White lines are used to separate lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. They serve to keep traffic in order and ensure all drivers have ample space to maneuver, without creating conflict with vehicles around them.

Solid white lines

As with solid yellow lines, solid white lines are “impassable” and must not be crossed. You will encounter solid white line markings in various situations:

  • A solid white line may mark the right-hand edge of the roadway, indicating the boundary between the road and the sidewalk – which drivers cannot cross.
  • At intersections with protected turn lanes, solid white lines are used to keep other streams of traffic out of the turn lane. In general, the last stretch of the turn lane will be marked with solid white lines, to prevent motorists from merging into the lane at the last moment. Always merge into a protected turn lane well in advance of the intersection.
  • Solid white lines usually mark both the left and right road edges on one-way streets.

Double solid white lines

Sometimes, lanes of traffic moving in the same direction will be separated with double solid white lines. Drivers may not cross over double solid white lines; they usually indicate a special-use lane that can only be occupied by specific road users, such as buses or high-occupancy vehicles. The double solid white lines marking such lanes tell motorists that they may not enter or leave the lane.

Designated entry and exit points will be established in places where vehicles may seek to enter the special use lane. At these points, the double white lines will be broken, and different pavement markings will indicate that drivers can merge in or out of the lane if they wish.

Broken white lines

Broken white lines are used to separate lanes of traffic where passing or merging is permitted. Drivers must pay attention to changes in the size of the lines, as thicker lines are sometimes painted to indicate that the broken white lines will shortly be replaced with a solid white line. Thicker white lines essentially serve as a warning that merging will only be permitted for a little while longer. You may encounter thickened broken lines in the run-up to highway exits.

Stop lines and crosswalk markings

Thick, white horizontal stop lines are often painted at intersections. These “limit” lines indicate the position where drivers must stop if stopping is necessary. Ideally, you should come to a complete stop around six inches prior to the stop line. Make sure no part of your vehicle is crossing the line, as you may be issued a ticket.

Some intersections do not have stop lines. If this is the case, drivers must come to a stop before the nearest edge of the pedestrian crosswalk. Remember that you must slow down and be prepared to stop when approaching a crosswalk, as pedestrians have the right-of-way. Crosswalks may be marked with a solid pathway, stripes or two horizontal white lines with a space in the middle.

White lines and slanted stripes

Sections of pavement around permanent obstacles are often marked out in white lines and filled in with slanted white stripes. These markings tell motorists that they must not drive on this patch of the roadway. You will encounter areas filled with slanted white stripes between highway entrance ramps and the main driving lanes. This is known as the “gore area” and is always off-limits to motorists.

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