The confusing case of the solid white line

Traffic Talk

December 31, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THREE WEEKS ago, you read in this column that, according to the Maryland Driver's Handbook, single solid white lines mark the "separation of lanes, or of a lane and shoulder, where lane changing is discouraged."

Several of you sent e-mail, strenuously objecting. Charles S. Jennings of Clarksville registered his objections most succinctly: "Thank you for your `enlightening' remarks in [your Dec. 10 column]. I learn that drivers are to be `discouraged' from crossing solid white lines. I guess I am no longer entitled to `righteous' indignation in the following all-too-typical case: at a merge, the car behind me changes lanes, across the solid line, while I blithely wait for the dotted line and find myself to be blocked by the driver who should be merely discouraged from being an inconsiderate aggressor," he said.

"Is the interpretation of `discouragement' relatively new? I have been led to believe that crossing solid white lines is wrong. I know of people who have been issued citations for just that offense. If, in fact, newer drivers are being advised that solid white lines may be crossed, how are those who learned the old rules advised of the changes, so they can re-adapt their defenses?" he wonders. "Does this `discouragement' interpretation also apply to speed limits? It certainly seems so!"

It seems to be true that new drivers are learning slightly different driving rules than older drivers, a concern for all of us.

Bill Perigo, a retired police officer, says solid white lines "actually are traffic controls that indicate crossing them is prohibited," he said.

"One reason for the confusion is that they are not covered in the Maryland Transportation Article, but under a different set of regulations regarding traffic engineering. The Transportation Article makes it a violation to disobey a properly placed traffic control device, but to find what a properly placed traffic control device is and means, you have to look to the engineering statutes," he said.

During his years on the force, Mr. Perigo notes, he issued a number of citations for crossing a solid white line, mostly for vehicles involved in accidents or drunken-driving stops. "I never lost one in court," he said.

However, according to information provided by Anna Lucente-Hoffman, a public information officer at the Motor Vehicle Administration, and Norrie Calvert, who works for the State Highway Administration and is an engineer and an attorney, the Maryland Driver's Handbook is correct.

Maryland abides by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is published by the U.S. Department of Transportation and is the national standard for lane markings and other traffic control devices on all public roads. This manual indicates in Section 3B.04 that "where crossing the lane line markings is discouraged, the lane line markings shall consist of a normal solid white line." The manual also indicates that "where crossing the lane line markings is prohibited, the lane line markings shall consist of two normal solid white lines."

It's worth a look. So if you want to wade through the information about lane markings the MUTCD is available on the Internet at http://mutcd.fhwa. 18.00/3.pdf.

I checked with the Howard County police for clarification. According to information provided by the Traffic Enforcement Division, solid white lines are considered to be a "traffic control device," and drivers can be cited for not obeying a traffic control device under Maryland's Traffic Code.

For example, if a driver comes off an exit ramp at a high rate of speed, crosses over the solid white line, and then crosses over several lanes of traffic rapidly, that driver could be cited for not obeying the traffic control device, which is the solid white line. In that case, the driver should have waited until the solid white lane changed to a broken white line. And in a section pages away from the general information about the solid white line, the Maryland Driver's Handbook addresses the issue: "When entering an Interstate [and other limited access highways], the solid painted lines [which are white] that divide the entrance and the interstate should not be crossed."

But it is highly unlikely that a driver would be cited for crossing a solid white line as he or she jockeys for position at an intersection unless there was an accident as a result.

So, from what I can determine, Mr. Perigo and the Maryland Driver's Handbook are correct. Whether a driver is cited for crossing a white line depends on the circumstances and the police officer's discretion. While I understand that space is limited in the Maryland Driver's Handbook, the information provided there is too simplistic and could be better cross-referenced so that a motorist can have all the facts he or she needs.

New Year's Resolutions

Jackie Duda, who lives in Monrovia, sent a New Year's resolution by e-mail : "I resolve to give other people the chance to turn if I'm coming down a straight away. ..."

I'll join in. I resolve not to get so upset when others forget that their cars come standard with turn signals. I also resolve to always use my turn signals.

What are your New Year's driving resolutions?

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at or send faxes to 410-715-2816. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.

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