Can You Cross a Double Yellow Line to Pass a Slow-Moving Vehicle?

Written by Gregory Monte.

Several Websites Get This Wrong

Yes, you can … in some states.

If you don’t believe me, I suggest that you read the rest of this blog post, because I provide the proof to back up my assertion.

I rarely cite websites or other blogs when I write my posts.  Instead I go to the original sources and do my own investigation in order to present the real facts.  So when I wanted to know the correct answer to the question about double yellow lines and passing, I went to the actual statutes that govern this issue.

  • Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)
  • Actual State Motor Vehicle Codes

As far as I can tell, some popular websites have answered this question incorrectly.  Consider the following:

Driver’s Road Markings“YOU CANNOT cross a double yellow line to pass another vehicle.”

Driver’s Education What are the rules of passing another vehicle?“Passing is illegal when: The center line is a double solid yellow line or there is a solid yellow line on your side.”

Hopefully I can set the record straight by actual reference to the laws.  If I am wrong in my interpretation, I would welcome any reader to set me straight – but I don’t believe that I am.

Some States Say “No” …

This blog post is actually a follow-up to my post from Friday where I discussed passing etiquette:

Impatient Driver Flashing High Beams Behind You? It’s legal, and you are required to move over.

At the end of that post, I pointed out that I only found one state which prohibits vehicles from crossing the double yellow center line of a two lane road in order to pass a car on the left.  According to Maine’s Motor Vehicle Code:

“… an operator may not drive to the left side of the way under the following conditions … When the double center line highway marking method is used and an unbroken painted line is marked …”

Well, I looked up California’s Code and see that it also prohibits it (Vehicle Code, Chapter 2, Article 3, Section 21460)

“If double parallel solid yellow lines are in place, a person driving a vehicle shall not drive to the left of the lines …”

The confusion over this passing issue probably exists because of the language in the the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). All states have adopted this manual (or at least a similar state version of it). It provides detailed requirements for the installation of signs, signals and markings on the nation’s highways.

What the Federal MUTCD Says

If you turn to the Federal MUTCD for an answer to the question posed in the title to this blog post, you are liable to end up confused.  Here is the breakdown of the rules on the double yellow line:

  • Section 1A.12 Color Code indicates that yellow is the color used for warning (as opposed to white, black and red which are regulations or prohibitions).  This would seem to imply that a yellow line of any sort is not a barrier to passing – its only a warning. 
  • Section 3A.05 Colors says yellow lines are used for “the separation of traffic traveling in opposite directions.”  So far, nothing definitive
  • Section 3A.06, however, specifies that “a double line indicates maximum or special restrictions …[while] … a broken line indicates a permissive condition.”  This is the first real hint that a double yellow line would restrict passing at all times.  After all, why even mention the broken line if this were not so.
  • Section 3B.01 is the strongest argument that you cannot cross a double yellow line at any time: Two-direction no-passing zone markings consisting of two normal solid yellow lines where crossing the center line markings for passing is prohibited for traffic traveling in either direction.”
  • Similarly, Section 3B.02 supports the prohibition on passing: No-passing zones shall be marked by either the one direction no-passing zone pavement markings or the two-direction no-passing zone pavement markings described in Section 3B.01 …”

So, according to the Feds, this is case closed.  Drivers are not allowed to cross a double yellow line in order to pass another vehicle.

… But Others States Say “Yes

The problem with the “case closed” answer to the double yellow line rule is that, except for Maine and California (so far), other state motor vehicle laws don’t support this interpretation.  Below I provide numerous examples to illustrate this point.  If your state is not in this list, just do a Google search using the terms “limitations on overtaking on the left” and your state name and you will be directed right to the law.

I am using Pennsylvania to illustrate a typical “passing on left” statute, but most other states have similar language.  As you will read below, there are specified limitations on passing on the left.  This means that any other situation not listed is allowed.  I bold and underline the main points.


3306.  Limitations on driving on left side of roadway.

(a)  General rule.–No vehicle shall be driven on the left side of the roadway under any of the following conditions:

(1)  When approaching or upon the crest of a grade or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction.

(2)  When approaching within 100 feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing, unless otherwise indicated by official traffic-control devices.

(3)  When the view is obstructed upon approaching within 100 feet of any bridge, viaduct or tunnel.

More importantly, Section 3307. No-passing zones, specifically requires signs to let motorists know that they are in one of these restrictive areas of the highway.

“Signs shall be placed to indicate the beginning and end of each no-passing zone.”

Obviously, if every double-yellow line was considered “no passing,” there would not be a need to mark out the zone with signs as per Section 3307.

Specific State Examples

Click on any of the links provided here and you will find limitations similar to those in Pennsylvania. I am still in the process of determining if these states must also post no-passing zones signs like in Pennsylvania. When I have completed this research, I will write a follow-up blog post. My goal is to compile a complete list of all the states that do allow passing even when there is a double yellow line.

Alabama – Section 32-5A-85

Washington State –  Section 46.61.125

Arizona – Section 28-726

California – Section 21752

New York – Section 1125

Nevada – Section 484B.213

New Jersey – Section 4-86

Florida – Section 316.087

Hopefully this puts to rest the argument over this issue. Several states appear to allow drivers to cross the double yellow line in order to pass a slower moving vehicle. Check back soon for an update on this.

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