Do you know if you’re at risk for a “white line violation?” Many people don’t until they’re pulled over.
Take this example from one of our members. Kathy crossed a solid white line that was part of a gore point (the space between a highway and a ramp, usually painted in a long, triangular shape). A trooper gave her the blue lights and told her she’d committed a white-line violation – something she’d never heard of.
Fortunately for Kathy, the officer didn’t cite her because, he said, he saw her take a very careful look over her shoulder before merging.
But it did leave her wondering: When is it OK and not OK to cross a white line? The answer is, “It depends.”
What do white lines mean? When can I cross white lines?
White lines are used when traffic is moving in the same direction to separate lanes or mark the edge of the highway. White markings also are used for crosswalks, stop lines, symbols, and words. Here’s what the most common white lines mean:
- A broken white line separates lanes moving in the same direction. You can cross a broken white line to change lanes when it’s safe to do so.
- A dashed white line looks like a broken white line but with smaller segments. They show a lane that will be ending or changing use. They mark exit-only lanes and transitions from a general-purpose lane to a carpool lane. Again, OK to cross when safe.
- Solid white lines mark both edges of two-way roads and the right edge of one-way roads. They help drivers stay in their lane (drifting over the white line and back into the lane is often a red flag for troopers and fellow motorists that a driver may be distracted or impaired). They’re also there to discourage driving on the shoulder unless signs indicate it’s legal in certain circumstances.
- A solid white line is used between lanes to direct traffic into a specific lane. While crossing it is discouraged, it’s not strictly prohibited and may be done to avoid a hazard. Among places they’re seen: around exits, entrances, HOV lanes, bike lanes, and separating through lanes from turn lanes at intersections.
- A double white line prohibits lane changes in virtually all circumstances except to avoid a hazard or collision or to allow an emergency responder to pass. These may be seen at gore points, where they start wide (where Kathy likely ran afoul) and come to a point. Sometimes toll and carpool lanes are separated by a double white line.
- A zigzag white line on the side of the road (rarely seen in the United States) means you can’t park along the shoulder.
Officers have some discretion when it comes to white-line crossing, and whether you get cited for a violation may come down to an officer’s assessment of safe lane travel. If there’s a specific stretch of roadway that you’re wondering about, check with law enforcement in your area.
What else do I need to know about white lines?
Pavement markings need to be consistent state-to-state. They’re covered in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is the national standard engineers use when designing roads. That’s no light reading, so you’ll probably want to check out these resources, instead:
Washington State Driver Guide, Pavement Markings start in section 3, page 9
Oregon Driver Manual, Pavement Markings start on page 17.
Do you have a Road Rules question? Let us know, and we may be able to share the answer in a future edition of Perspective.
NOTE: While we’re experts in loss prevention and home/auto safety, we don’t consider ourselves experts in traffic laws or their enforcement. Information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have legal concerns, we urge you to contact a law enforcement source or attorney in your community.
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