White lines provide straightforward instructions – which are sometimes misunderstood or ignored. Here’s how to adjust your riding accordingly.
Like road signs, road markings are designed to be easily understood. When drivers don’t follow them, it creates problems. So road markings will often be your cue to take the lane. You’ll need to make a judgement call in each case, after checking behind; you might feel more confident in the ‘secondary’ position, further to the left than the centre of the lane. Avoid getting too close to the kerb, however, as it will encourage drivers to overtake you when it’s not safe to do so.
Broken white centre line
A single broken white line simply marks the middle of the road. It doesn’t mean ‘overtake at will’. Drivers are obliged (Highway Code, Rule 163) to give cyclists ‘at least as much room as… when overtaking a car’. There’s a good accompanying photo in the Code to illustrate this, with the car clearly crossing over the white line. When the broken white lines get longer, with shorter gaps between them, it means there’s a hazard ahead. Be prepared to take the lane
Solid white centre line
Where there are double lines in the middle, you ‘MUST NOT cross or straddle’ a solid white line on your side of the road, according to Rule 129. (If the line is broken on your side, see above.) Careless drivers interpret this as: ‘Don’t cross a solid line when overtaking cyclists, even if it means you nearly hit them.’ Some cautious drivers take it to mean: ‘Do not overtake cyclists.’ Neither is correct. Rule 129 goes on to say: ‘You may cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to… overtake a pedal cycle… travelling at 10mph or less.’ Be prepared to take the lane to prevent dangerous overtaking.
Not to be confused with lane direction arrows, these curved arrows tell overtaking drivers to get back onto their side of the road. Drivers will sometimes race to get to this point and then swing in rapidly, cutting you up. Once again: be prepared to take the lane, because you’re about to reach a solid-white-line situation (see above). ‘Move left’ arrows are also used on multi-lane roads such as dual carriageways, where the rightmost lane is ending. Traffic may be moving quickly and braking suddenly in this situation, so treat such arrows as a red flag. Stay alert and be prepared to move further left if other road users are behaving recklessly.
Cycle lane line
A solid white line at the edge of an on-road cycle lane doesn’t mean you must use it and stay within it. The instruction is for drivers. Rule 140 says: ‘You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line.’ Believe it or not, drivers are only allowed to drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a dashed white line if it is ‘unavoidable’. Quite what constitutes ‘unavoidable’ isn’t spelled out… Note that, on a shared-use path with pedestrians, a solid white centre line is a divider that you’re not meant to cross.
Lines around stripes or chevrons
If the area of diagonal strips or chevrons is bordered by a broken white line, you can enter it if it’s safe to do so. If the border is a solid white line, you can enter it only in an emergency. This applies to cyclists as well as drivers. However, some dual carriageways feature a cycle track that cuts across from the main carriageway to the slip road just before the chevrons begin. Cyclists can use this and then rejoin the main carriageway, to avoid having to pass in front of merging traffic doing 60mph or more.
Stop line at stop sign
All road users, including cyclists, MUST (the Highway Code helpfully capitalises) stop behind this double thickness solid line, before checking the way is clear and then proceeding. Cyclists aren’t specifically required to put a foot down, so trackstanding would be legal. A ‘rolling stop’, permissible at dashed give way lines, isn’t allowed.
Advanced stop line
Drivers (and motorcyclists!) are required to stop behind the first solid line, before the box with the painted outline of a bicycle. Cyclists are required to stop before the second line – that is, in the box. When you get into the box, take the lane; the Highway Code advises drivers to ‘allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows’. Many ASLs have dashed lines that seem to indicate a recommended route into the ASL. You’re not obliged to use this and can cross the drivers’ stop line to enter the ASL. Given the fact that some ASLs are approached by narrow cycle lanes squeezed against the kerb, this is just as well.
Give way markings
Give way markings are broken white lines at: a minor road junction with a major road (usually a double dashed line); the entry to a roundabout (usually a single dashed line); the entry to a mini roundabout (one or two dashed lines). Take the lane when you approach give way lines. It will prevent drivers pulling alongside and/or cutting you up. Where you’re joining another road, you’re required to give way to traffic in both directions. Where you joining a roundabout or mini roundabout, you must give way to traffic from the right. Caution: some drivers will not give way to cyclists coming from the right, particularly at mini roundabouts. Take the lane when you’re on the roundabout and cover your brakes. Note that a rolling stop is permissible at give way lines. You need to slow down and be ready to stop, but it’s okay to keep moving if the way is clear.
For more details visit gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code.
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