Common road markings and what they mean

Common road markings and what they mean image

Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Brent Co, Kelvin Christian Go | posted February 19, 2016 15:24

More than just decoration on the road

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. Anyone who's had to go through a driving school has likely had to learn what they mean. Many of them are also tackled in the driver's license exam, though we all know how laughably easy it is to breeze through.

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 road marking

White solid line

These lines are the most critical to take note of. They line the edges of the road, mark out intersections and indicate where and when to take extra caution.

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

If you see a horizontal solid line ahead of you, this means the vehicle must come to a full stop, unless indicated to proceed by a traffic light or when clear. Ensure that your front tire comes to rest just before the white line. Of course, it would be better to prevent your vehicle's front bumper from crossing the line for the convenience of pedestrians or other cross traffic vehicles.

Several horizontal solid lines in quick succession are called rumble strips. These are typically placed on highways or roads with high speed limits to alert the driver of an impending obstacle like a turn or intersection. They're like little speed bumps and 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. In the Philippines, they're used a little too frequently and can be found before almost every busy intersection in some cities.

Vertical solid lines (stretching with the flow of traffic) mark the edges of lanes. Two constantly run along the opposite ends of the road. They also indicate areas where changing lanes is discouraged or could be dangerous. Obviously, you must stay between these lines, not over them.

You'll typically see vertical dashed lines turning into solid lines when approaching an intersection, fork, or junction in the road. These are there to remind you to change before the solid line or simply stay in your lane.

White dashed line road marking

White dashed line

These marks indicate the center of the road, make it easier to make out lanes, show the direction of the road at night, and indicate where caution or yielding must be exercised.

Horizontal dahsed lines mark out areas where caution must be exercised. Areas with these lines typically don't have signs or signal lights. You don't need to come to a full stop before it, unlike the solid horizontal line, but it is best to be mindful when approaching one. On multiple lane roads, they usually outline areas where a vehicle can make a left turn against oncoming traffic, merge onto a larger road with the right of way, if it is clear, or indicate a pedestrian crosswalk that is not frequently passed.

Vertical dahsed lines mark out lanes. Naturally, you must keep your vehicle to the right  between these lines. If the dashes are spaced far apart, it is ok to cross these lines and change lanes. While changing lanes, make it a habit to use your turn signals.

Most new cars make this easier by having a handy lane change indicator built-in. Simply tap the turn signal stalk enough to activate it, but not enough to lock it. This will allow it to blink thrice, indicating you're changing lane. It will automatically turn off after, without you having to reach for the stalk again.

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 or rotundas.

Yellow dashed lines that are closely spaced indicate where you can enter into the bus lane and make a right to a side street.

Solid yellow line road marking

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.

As such, 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.

Double yellow lines road marking

These marks must be strictly followed 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 also 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.

Box junction road marking

Box junction

This is a yellow box with an X or X's inside, typically found in intersections. They mark out areas of high traffic flow in multiple directions. As such, no vehicle is allowed to stay in this box for a prolonged period of time. They may be placed on intersections with or without traffic lights.

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, wait patiently before the box junction.

Thankfully, many traffic lights now have countdown timers. If there are only 3 seconds left in the green light and you're several car lengths away from the box, slow down and wait for the next light. Also, the yellow traffic light means “slow down,” not “speed up.” The only vehicles that can continue driving during a yellow light are those already in the box junction.

Even if your light is green, do not proceed if there is no room for you on the other side. You will only irk other drivers and cause more traffic, making the traffic lights virtually useless.

Lane arrow road markings

Lane arrows

If trying to remember which lane to stay on and where and when to change is confusing, there's another reminder on the road: lane arrows. These indicate the direction each vehicle in that lane must travel. As such, if you see an arrow pointing forward, simply proceed as planned. Arrows pointing left or right indicate you must turn at the appropriate intersection, fork or junction. Arrows with double heads, one pointing forward and another pointing a different 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.

Of course, these lane arrows are useless if you tailgate too closely to the car ahead. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you so you can spot, not only potential dangers, but these arrows too.

In addition to these lane markings, be on the lookout for overhead signs and stoplights. These green signs are aligned to the lane and indicate where you will go if you stay on that particular lane. 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.

Practical application of road markings

Practical application

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 new lines 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. It's better to slow down in an intersection even if you have right of way. Always indicate before changing lanes.

If a left turn, U-turn, right turn or flyover is a little difficult to get to from your lane (i.e. requires changing two lanes within 10 meters), then you're probably on the wrong lane already. Don't swerve to get to it and find a way to get back to your turn off further down the road.

Indeed many drivers may continue to blatantly violate these rules as you endeavor to follow them. Don't lose heart and keep on the right lane. If each of us does our part to drive conscientiously, we may improve the flow of traffic one car at a time.