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Understanding UK road markings

Do you know your double whites from your zig-zags? Following these white line rules could save you from a fine.

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Road markings: the UK’s byways are covered with them. Some are in better condition than others, but whatever their state, painted lines are there for a reason.

Many drivers believe they are there to keep traffic on the correct side of the road and they certainly do help to keep traffic in the right place, especially at night or when visibility is compromised.

But the type of lines and the way they are space out on the road surface tell a greater story – and it’s one that thousands of drivers don’t fully understand. A recent survey by road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist revealed that many of its members are confused by the different types of road lines and what they all mean.

But not knowing the meaning of a particular marking could land you in trouble with traffic  police, with a resulting fine or endorsement a great possibility. 

Lines that travel along the road surface in a longitudinal fashion are not just there to divide up the route equally – the way in which they are painted also warns of hazards ahead such as an approaching junction. And lines that go across the road surface (transverse) have another role to play such as showing where to stop or ‘give way’.

And the road markings are not just for moving vehicles – they also give instructions about where you can legally stop or park your car. Knowing your road lines and what they mean could help you avoid an unwelcome penalty ticket and even points on your licence, says GEM.

“We know from the member inquiries we receive that there is confusion over what’s allowed and what isn’t when it comes to lines in the road,” adds Neil Worth, GEM chief executive. “Not even emergency vehicles using blue lights are exempt from certain road lines and markings.”

GEM has assembled a line-by-line guide to staying safe, designed to reduce risk and help drivers steer clear of trouble with the police and local authorities.  

Line ‘em up. What the road markings mean:

Broken line

It’s legal to cross a broken white line down the middle of a road if you are overtaking or turning. Ensure the road is clear and you can complete the manoeuvre safely.

Longer lines

When the broken lines lengthen and the gaps between them shorten, that’s a warning of a hazard ahead. However, it’s still legal to cross the line.

Double white, with broken on your side

As long as the line nearer to you is broken, it is legal to cross it if you are overtaking. You must be back on your side of the road before reaching the start of a solid white line on your side.

White ‘return’ arrows

These arrows warn you to get back onto your side of the road because a solid white line system is about to start.

Double white, solid on your side

It’s an offence to cross or straddle a double white line where the line nearer to you is solid, unless you are turning right into a side street or a driveway. Overtaking is not allowed, unless you’re going past a stationary vehicle, a cyclist, horse and rider or road maintenance vehicle travelling at 10mph or less.

The offence carries a £100 fine and three penalty points but if the police deem your overtaking manoeuvre particularly risky, you could face a more serious offence of dangerous driving.

Double line parking

It’s an offence to park at the side of a road marked with central double white lines, even when a broken white line is on your side of the road. You are, though, allowed to drop off or pick up passengers, or to load or unload goods.

Zig-zag lines at crossings

It’s an offence to park on the zig-zag lines found on each side of pedestrian crossings. This carries a £100 fine and three penalty points.

Source: GEM Motoring Assist

Parking markings

Double yellow lines

Most drivers know that double yellow lines mean ‘no parking’ – you can’t leave your car at the side of the road with double yellows at any time. However, loading and unloading is usually permitted, as is dropping off or picking up passengers. Check any localised roadside signs to be sure.

Single yellow lines

These are less restrictive than their ‘double’ counterparts, but care should still be taken when leaving your car parked on one. They are usually restricted by time and the permitted hours will be shown on roadside markings.

Double red lines

Often seen on major through routes, they forbid parking, stopping or loading. There are exemptions though, and these will be shown on roadside signs.

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.