Road Rules 101: Solid white lines, explained

Tuesday, January 1, 2019by  PEMCO Insurance

double white line stripe on highway.Road Rules, customer-suggested story

If a patrol officer waves you over when you merge onto the freeway, it may not be for cutting someone off or failing to signal. It may be a white-line violation. Not sure what that is? Neither was Washington reader Kathy C. when she wrote to us and shared her story. The officer told her that if he hadn't seen her take such a careful look over her shoulder as she merged, he'd have ticketed her.

So what was the problem? Kathy may have 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). Although crossing a solid white line isn't always prohibited (more about that below), it's off-limits in some circumstances – including gore points and places where signs forbid lane changes.

The Washington Driver Guide (page 3-8) explains white lines this way:

White lane markings – Solid white lines are used to mark both edges of two-way roads and the right edge of one-way roads. You should not drive to the right of the edge line. A dashed white line between lanes of traffic means that you may cross it to change lanes if it is safe. A solid white line between lanes of traffic means that you should stay in your lane unless a special situation requires you to change lanes.

"Special situations" include moving from an HOV lane to the adjacent general-purpose lane and, in some circumstances, merging out of an exit-only lane during heavy traffic. Here are guidelines for Oregon (beginning on page 19).

The law doesn't permit drifting over a single white line onto the shoulder or crossing a double white line. As in Kathy's case, sometimes it comes 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.

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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