Knowing the ‘Language’ of Lane Markings Will Make You a Better Driver

Knowing the ‘Language’ of Lane Markings Will Make You a Better Driver

There is a language of the road, and knowing the “lingo” no matter where you travel will make you a safer, more productive driver both in your business and personal life.

Language is a complex thing. Humans aren’t born with an inherent knowledge of verbal or nonverbal language. Instead our understanding of language is shaped by the world and culture around us over time and through experience. Learn and spend enough time around one language, and your understanding of it becomes as natural as breathing.

The road markings you see every day are no different. Like any language, they communicate vital information that can help you be a safer, more informed driver. They tell you “which part of the road to use, provide information about conditions ahead, and indicate where passing is allowed,” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s website.

Understanding the Common Vocabulary

You have likely internalized some of the most common markings you’ve seen on almost any paved road. Here are some markings you might recognize:

  • Solid white line: When this line is to your left, traffic is traveling in your direction. This can also mark a shoulder on the right side of the road. On the highway, these lines indicate that you must stay in your lane when they are on both sides of your vehicle.
  • Broken white line: You can cross over these lines if it’s safe to do so.
  • A Single Solid yellow line: These mark the center of a road with two-way traffic. Just like the solid white line, traffic flows in the same direction when the line is to your left.
  • Broken yellow line: If this line is on your side of the lane, you can pass it if it’s safe. This commonly indicates a center lane where you can safely merge into traffic.
  • Two solid yellow lines: Never cross or drive to the left of these lines, unless you are entering or exiting a driveway, making a U-turn, entering or exiting a private road, or are otherwise instructed due to a closed or blocked road.
  • Large broken white lines: These indicate that a lane is about to merge or become a freeway exit.

You’ll find these markers on most roadways across the United States, and they provide a common, simple visual language for drivers to interpret the basic rules of the road. Markings like the double yellow lines let you know where you can and can’t drive safely, so you don’t end up driving into incoming traffic.

Lingua Obscura

On the flip side, there are markings that are less common, but no less important to safely navigate the road. For example:

  • Solid white triangles: When these are pointed toward your vehicle, they indicate yield lines, letting you know to stop and yield to oncoming vehicles. These are also known as “shark’s teeth.”
  • Solid white diamonds: This signals that the lane is a “High Occupancy Vehicle” (HOV) Lane. In an HOV lane only vehicles with a driver and at least one other passenger are allowed to use the lane during peak hours. Motorcyclists are often exempted, and the speed limit is usually slightly higher.
  • Bicycle, with double arrows: Also known as “sharrows,” these indicate that this lane may be shared with cyclists.
  • Solid white line, ending in a dotted line: These markings indicate a bicycle lane. These lanes are for cyclists only, and may not be driven through except to make a right turn. Drivers should keep an eye out for cyclists and should keep at least 3 feet away from cyclists at all times.
  • Arrows, pointed in the direction of travel, followed by eight horizontal lines: These markings indicate that the driver is approaching a speed bump, and should slow down on the road.

Stay Calm, Drive On

However, acting as an informational visual language isn’t the only function of lane markings. The way they are displayed can have a psychological effect that helps drivers be safer as well. Psychological traffic calming is a way of designing roads to get drivers to instinctively drive safer. Some examples of psychological traffic calming include making lanes narrower, plants that that block sight-lines of approaching corners, and painting roads different colors. One study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that these traffic calming techniques slowed average driving speeds up to 8 mph.

Like any language, understanding takes practice. Learning the language of the road can take time, especially considering all the traffic laws and lane markings that exist throughout the country. But learning the rules of the road are key to becoming a better, safer driver.

Drive safely!

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