Pavement Markings lane lines road markings

Pavement Markings Explained: What the Different Markings and Lines Actually Mean

by Zutobi · Updated Apr 28, 2023

Pavement markings such as solid yellow lines and painted symbols are used to divide lanes, as well as indicate when it’s legal to pass, safe for changing lanes, turn, and when you have to stop.

We’ll go through these different types of road markings and their meanings today.

  • White Lines
  • Yellow Lines
  • Edge Lines
  • Arrows
  • Reversible Lanes
  • HOV-Lanes

White Road Lines

White lines separate traffic traveling in the same direction. There are three types of white lines- single broken, single solid, and double solid.

Single Broken White Lines

Two vehicles traveling in the same direction separated by a broken white line

You may cross single broken white lines to change lanes when safe.

Single Solid White Lines

Two vehicles traveling in the same directions separated by a single solid white line

You must not cross single solid white lines unless to avoid a hazard. Many drivers fail to obey this at traffic light intersections, which creates a dangerous situation for everyone.

Double Solid White Lines

Two vehicles traveling in the same direction separated by double solid white lines

You must not cross double solid white lines for any reason as they indicate a barrier.

Yellow Road Lines

Yellow lines separate traffic traveling in opposite directions.

Broken Yellow Line

Two vehicles on a road separated by broken yellow lines

You may, if safe, cross broken yellow lines to pass a vehicle in front. Make sure that the road ahead is clear before passing.

Solid Yellow Line

Two vehicles on the road separated by a single solid yellow  line

A solid yellow line indicates that passing is prohibited. Don’t cross a solid yellow line to pass another vehicle.

A Solid Yellow Line Alongside a Broken Yellow Line

Depending on which side you are on, you may or may not be allowed to pass

  • If you are traveling on the right of the broken yellow line, you are allowed to cross the lines to pass vehicles, if safe.
  • If you are traveling on the side of the solid yellow line, you must not pass

Double Solid Yellow Lines

Two vehicles separated by double solid yellow lines

Double solid yellow lines indicate no passing from either lane. Don’t drive to the left of double solid yellow lines except if:

  • Turning left to enter/leave a road
  • Your lane is blocked or closed and signs indicate you must drive on the other side of the lines
  • Traveling in an HOV lane with a designated entrance to the left of the lines

There may be additional exceptions depending on where you live.

Car driving in HOV lane
In this scenario, you’re allowed to drive to the left of double solid yellow road lines

What are Edge Lines?

Zoomed in on edge line on a highway
A typical edge line

Edge lines are solid pavement lines along the side of the road. They indicate where the lane ends and where the road shoulder begins. There are two types of edge lines:

  • A solid white edge line – indicates the right edge of the pavement
  • A solid yellow edge line – indicates the left edge of the pavement on divided highways and one-way streets

What are Pavement Arrows?

If marked arrows exist, you must only drive in the direction indicated by the arrows.

Arrows may have more than one direction:

  • one direction – only drive in the designated direction
  • two directions – you may drive in either direction

Place yourself in the correct lane well in advance of an arrow so you don’t have to make last-minute lane changes.

What are Reversible Lanes?

Reversible traffic lanes improve traffic flow during the busiest time

Reversible traffic lanes exist on some highways to improve traffic flow during rush hours. Reversible lanes are marked by traffic signs, pavement markings, and lane signals.

Generally, a reversible lane will be open in one direction during the morning commute, and in the other direction in the afternoon.

Diamond Symbols / HOV Lanes

HOV lane diamond symbol road marking
Road markings for HOV lanes are marked on the road as a diamond symbol

Diamond symbols are used to indicate special purpose lanes, such as lanes reserved for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV). Unless you comply with the requirements of the HOV lane, you must not drive in a lane with diamond pavement symbols.

Look for signs indicating who may drive in a HOV lane

HOV lanes are restricted traffic lanes where only vehicles with a certain number of occupants (usually 2 or more) are allowed to use. Some vehicles like buses, motorcycles, and low-emission vehicles are exceptions to the rule and can use the HOV lanes at any time.

There may also be restrictions at certain times of the day and day of the week. Some states allow eligible energy-efficient vehicles to drive any time of the day bypassing the HOV lane restrictions. Follow the HOV lane rules! Enter and exit only at designated points.

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