Q: Is it OK to cross a solid white line when changing lanes on the freeway? – Mike M., University Place
A: Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.
Before we expound, let’s let Mike explain himself.
“When merging into another lane, sometimes I find myself crossing the white line on the freeway,” he wrote to us here at Traffic Q&A headquarters.
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“For instance, if I get off 56th Street going north, you have to get into the second lane; otherwise, you’re going to Gig Harbor. Many times it’s difficult to merge over because of traffic, and I find myself driving over the white line.”
“Another place is going from Puyallup to Sumner. If you are getting onto 167 northbound, you have to merge over three lanes to make the Sumner exit onto 410. Again I find myself crossing the white line.”
We know both spots, and we sympathize.
That 56th Street ramp onto northbound Interstate 5 is fraught with peril for any number of reasons. But we digress.
In our attempt to answer Mike’s question, we consulted the Washington Driver Guide, which contains a handy little section titled, “Pavement Markings.”
The subsection, “White lane markings,” includes the following verbiage:
“A dashed white lane between lanes of traffic means that you may cross it to change lanes if it is safe. A solid white line between lanes of traffic means that you should stay in your lane unless a special situation requires you to change lanes.”
We weren’t sure if trying to exit onto state Route 410 from state Route 167 during heavy traffic qualifies as a “special situation,” so we sought the counsel of Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol.
“It is illegal to cross a solid white line when you are merging onto the freeway and the solid white line is part of the gore point or the solid white line identifies the shoulder of the road,” Prouty said. “It is not illegal to cross a solid white line when changing lanes on the freeway; for example, moving from the HOV lane into an unrestricted lane.”
For the uninitiated, the gore point is that space between a highway and a ramp that usually is painted in a roughly long, skinny, triangular shape.
Wanting to make doubly sure we advised you correctly, we sought a bit more clarification, even sending Prouty a photo of the white line Mike says he crosses when trying to avoid heading to Gig Harbor after getting onto northbound I-5 at 56th Street. (We have included that photo with the online version of this tale).
Prouty, good sport that he is, reviewed our photo and issued the following response:
“Yes, you would legally be able to cross the solid white line and continue northbound into the through lanes. The solid white line is indicating the exit-only lane.”
So, crossing the gore point or shoulder solid white is a no-no. Crossing other solid whites is OK, per Prouty.
We’d bet good money (is there any other kind?) that a driver still would need to signal and change lanes in a safe manner, though.
72nd and Portland Avenue update
Some of you might recall that we addressed in this space not along ago a potentially dangerous situation out on East Portland Avenue.
We had complaints that drivers were put into a dicey position because there was no sign warning them that Portland Avenue narrows from two lanes to one just south of 72nd Street.
We witnessed a few near-misses there during a field trip last month as people desperately tried to merge as their lane petered out.
You might also recall that we contacted city officials, who promised to rectify the situation.
We are happy to report that they were true to their word.
A new “lane ends” sign has been erected just south of 72nd Street.
We’re still waiting for arrows to be painted on the pavement warning people to get over, but we expect the cold, wet weather has delayed that part of the plan.
We’ll keep watching.