Crossing a Solid White Line on a Highway – Is it Legal?

Written by Gregory Monte.

The short answer is that it depends on the state you are driving in – but that is not really why I decided to write this blog post.  Instead, I wanted to make a point (yet again) about how useless much traffic ticket advice on the internet actually is … presently company excluded, of course.

Useless Traffic Ticket Websites

When I have a traffic ticket related question, I don’t search the internet for a quick answer.  Instead, I go right to the original sources – either a specific state’s motor vehicle code or the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) – and find out for myself

An article from the Mercury News illustrates very well the reason for doing this: Can you cross a solid white line on a California road? Instead of actually looking up the law governing solid white lines, the writer merely asks a bunch of people what they think:

  • “It’s illegal 90 percent of the time, says the California Highway Patrol.”
  • “Legal, says Bay Driving & Traffic School.”
  • “Illegal, says Comedians Plus- Learn From Us Traffic School.”
  • “If it’s not illegal, it should be, says the DMV.”
  • “I’m willing to bet that if you call every police office in the state, you will get a different answer every time.”

Needless to say, the article doesn’t quite answer the question.

The Correct Answer

The MUTCD, however, gives a clue about the actual answer – Section 3B.04 White Lane Line Pavement Markings and Warrants:

  • Standard 20: Where crossing the lane line markings is discouraged, the lane line markings shall consist of a normal or wide solid white line.”
  • Standard 30: Where crossing the lane line markings is prohibited, the lane line markings shall consist of a solid double white line.”

So, the regulation is pretty straightforward.  Crossing a “normal or wide solid white line” is “discouraged” while crossing a “solid double white line” is “prohibited.”

What makes a line “double?”

MUTCD Section 3A.06 Functions, Widths, and Patterns of Longitudinal Pavement Markings clarifies:

  • Normal line—4 to 6 inches wide.
  • Wide line—at least twice the width of a normal line.
  • Double line—two parallel lines separated by a discernible space.

NOTE: California has its own version of the MUTCD which provides the same information about white lines as the federal version.

CA Court Mentions the Double White Line

To support my contention that California specifically uses a double white line to restrict crossing, consider the following case: DOWNEY REAL ESTATE HOLDING, LLC v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Auth.  This is not a traffic case, but the quote indicates that a double white line which affects a homeowner’s access to his driveway (because it prohibits a turn at that location) is not “compensable” – the property owner just has to suck it up and deal with it.

 “In the proper exercise of its police power in the regulation of traffic, a state or county may do many things which are not compensable to an abutting property owner, such as constructing a traffic island, placing permanent dividing strips which deprive an abutter of direct access to the opposite side of the highway, painting double white lines on the highway, or designating the entire street as a one-way street.”

So, don’t believe everything that you read on the internet about traffic-related topics. Unless an article actually references the relevant code or statute and interprets it correctly, its merely the opinion of the writer – and opinions won’t get you very far in the courtroom.

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