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Road markings and what they mean

There’s not a week that passes by without a photo of an erring motorist popping up on the Facebook feed, most likely in blatant violation of posted traffic signs or street markings. To serve as a refresher, and to possibly curb horrific incidents in graphic viral videos, have a look out our short summary of common road markings and what they mean.

Solid white line

Lateral solid lines (stretching across your path) warn of obstacles that can cross a vehicle’s path. You’ll see them just before gg1intersections, pedestrian crossings, railroad crossings and the like.

A solid line across the width of the road marks where your vehicle must come to a full stop, unless indicated to proceed by a traffic light or when clear. Keep your front tire from crossing the white line when stopped.

Several solid lines across the road in quick succession are called ‘rumble strips’. These are typically placed on highways or roads to alert the driver of an impending obstacle like a turn or intersection. They’re designed to make a rumbling sound when a vehicle travels over them, hence the name. These may be crossed without coming to a full stop, though it is encouraged to slow down a little. These are not to be confused with zebra crossings or pedestrian crosswalks, which are several lines parallel to the flow of traffic.

Longitudinal solid lines (parallel to the flow of traffic) mark the edges of lanes and indicate areas where changing lanes is discouraged or could be dangerous. Stay between these lines, not over them.

When approaching an intersection, fork, or junction, change lanes before the dashed lines turn into solid lines.

White dashed linegg

These marks indicate lanes on the road, and indicate where caution or yielding must be exercised. If they run parallel to the flow of traffic, they are there to mark out lanes. Keep your vehicle in between these lines. They may be crossed to change lanes or overtake.

When they are spaced closer together, they indicate either a new lane that can be moved into or one that is merging into the lane you’re in. You’ll find these in widening or narrowing roads, turn boxes, junctions or rotundas.

Solid yellow line

This marking is easier to spot for a reason: it means drivers should be extra cautious when these are around. Solid yellow lines indicate where passing is strictly prohibited, not even if it looks clear. These lines are typically found on either side of a white dashed line. The ‘no-crossing’ rule applies to the lane the yellow line is closest to.

If there is a yellow line on your lane, but none on the opposite, it means it is safe for oncoming cars to cross and overtake, but not for you. If there is one on the opposite lane, you may overtake, but not the oncoming vehicles. Double yellow lines mean it is strictly prohibited for vehicles on either lane to overtake.gg2

Trust these markings as engineers have taken into account the road’s curve, camber, elevation, as well as driver’s line of sight to determine if it is safe to pass. It is especially important to follow this on bridges, viaducts, and flyovers as there is no extra room for vehicles to maneuver to avoid any oncoming vehicles in their own lane.

A single yellow line marks out bus lanes in some cities and also serves the same purpose. It is not recommended for both private cars or buses to cross these lines. Wait for the dashed yellow line. These indicate you can enter this lane to make your turn.

Yellow box

This is a yellow or orange box with an X or X’s inside, typically found in intersections. They mark out areas of high traffic flow in multiple directions. This marking means keep this area clear. They may be placed on intersections with or without traffic lights, or before driveways.

When approaching a box junction, look ahead and make sure there is enough space on the other side of the intersection for your car, before proceeding. If traffic has stopped and there is no room — even if the traffic light is green — wait patiently before the box junction.

Many cities strictly enforce the ‘keep clear’ rule for these boxes.  If you’re already on the box when a green light turns yellow, keep driving. If you’re not yet at the box by the time the light turns yellow, slow down to a stop.

Lane arrows

These indicate the direction each vehicle in that lane must travel when in that lane. As such, if you see an arrow pointing forward, simply proceed as planned. Arrows pointing left, right, or backward (U-turn) indicate you must follow at the appropriate intersection, fork or junction. Arrows with two or three heads —pointing forward and another direction —mean you can do either action in that lane.

If you encounter an upside down triangle, that is a yield sign. This indicates you are approaching an intersecting road that has the right of way. Ensure your path is clear before merging, proceeding or turning.

Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you so you can spot these arrows.

If heavy traffic makes them difficult to see, be on the lookout for overhead signs and stoplights. These green signs are aligned to the lane and indicate where they lead. Stoplights are aligned to lanes too, to help you spot which lanes are for proceeding forward, left turn only, or must make a U-turn. Stoplights on islands or the curb are for the lane closest to them.

Naturally, the road out there isn’t perfect. Some lane markings will be faded, absent, or even blacked out because the rules or directions have changed. Keep a sharp eye for markings or signs that will tell you where to go. Finally, take a good look around you, assess the area, and employ defensive driving when these are absent.