Common road markings explained

Ever been on the receiving end of curses, aggressive honking, or even road rage? Has a traffic enforcer ever told you you’ve made an illegal turn or have disregarded road markings? Besides the signs on the side of the road, road markings can also tell you a lot about where you’re supposed to go, and what you can and can’t do.

Anyone who's had to go through a driving school has likely had to learn what they mean. Many of them are also covered in the driver's license exam. Yet how many of these do you actually remember? When’s the last time you followed them?

In this article, we give you a refresher course on what these lines, boxes and arrows mean. Read on and you might learn a new thing or two.

Solid white line

These lines are often ignored but are very useful when you notice them. You’ll find solid white lines on the edges of the road. They mark out intersections. They also indicate where and when to take extra caution.

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Horizontal white line

Horizontal solid lines (stretching across your path) warn of obstacles that will cross your path. You'll see them just before intersections, pedestrian crossings, railroad crossings and the like.

If you see a horizontal solid line ahead of you, this means the vehicle must come to a full stop, unless indicated to proceed by a traffic light, a traffic officer, or when it’s clear and safe.

When approaching a horizontal white line, slow down. Your front tire should not cross the white line. You will be caught for blocking an intersection if you do. Keep it behind it.

Rumble strips

Several horizontal solid lines in quick succession are called rumble strips, after the sound they make when you roll over them. They're like little speed bumps and make a rumbling sound. You’ll find them on highways or roads where cars travel at high speeds. You’ll find them quite frequently in Makati and Taguig. They’re placed to alert the rider of an impending obstacle like a turn or intersection. These may be crossed without coming to a full stop, though it is better if you slow down.

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Vertical white line

Vertical solid lines (parallel to your bike) mark the edges of lanes. You will always find them on the edges of the road. When in the middle, they mark out where you should NOT change lanes because it could be dangerous. Obviously, you must stay between these lines, not over them. Besides, they’re slippery to ride on anyway.

When you see vertical dashed lines turning into solid lines when approaching an intersection, fork, or junction in the road, these are there to remind you to change lane before the solid line or simply stay in your lane. When you change lane over the solid line, you can be caught and charged with swerving or illegal lane change.

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White dashed line

You may already recognize these on the center of the road. They also mark out lines. In national roads and highways outside the city, they show the direction of the road at night. Unlike solid lines, dashed lines mean it’s OK to cross them, but with caution.

Horizontal dashed lines

You’ll see these when approaching intersections that don't have stop signs or signal lights. You don't need to come to a full stop before it. Of course, it’s always safer to slow down when approaching one.

On wide roads with several lanes, horizontal dashed lines indicate areas where you can make a left turn against oncoming traffic. These also show where you can change lanes and merge (with caution) onto a busier road that has the right of way. You can sometimes find them before a pedestrian crossing (PED Xing) that is not frequently passed.

Vertical dashed lines

Vertical dashed lines mark out lanes. As you probably already know, you should keep your bike between these lines. Dashed lines mean it’s ok to change lanes. Of course, it’s always better to still use your turn signals.

When the dashed lines are shorter and spaced closer together, it means there’s a new lane that will merge with you, or that you should merge to. You'll find these in widening or narrowing roads, turn boxes or rotundas. There are quite a few on EDSA.

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Blue dashed lines

These are unique to the Philippines. Being a rider, you should be aware of what blue dashed lines mean. These mark out the motorcycle lane. This is the lane where motorcycles are encouraged to stay when on a busy road. They can depart the lane when their turn off is near. For now, the motorcycle lane is not exclusive, but there are plans and studies already being conducted to make it exclusive to motorcycles.

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Yellow dashed lines

Whether in traffic lights or on the road, yellow always means caution. So when you see yellow dashed lines that short and close to each other, that means you can enter into the bus lane and turn right into a side street. These are areas where it’s safe to enter the bus lane. Traffic enforces won’t catch you for bus lane violations if you enter in these areas.


Solid yellow lines

This marking is easy to see for a reason. Riders should be extra careful when these are around. Solid yellow lines indicate where passing is strictly prohibited, not even if it looks clear or there are no oncoming vehicles. You’ll see these lines on either side of a white dashed line. The no overtaking / changing lane rule applies to the lane the yellow line is closest to.

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If you see a solid yellow line on your lane, but none on the opposite, that means you CANNOT overtake. Even if it looks clear. But it is safe for oncoming cars to overtake into your lane. If there is one on the opposite lane, you CAN overtake, but not the oncoming vehicles.

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Double yellow lines mean NO ONE can overtake. Single yellow lines in the middle of the road mean the same thing.

These are not a suggestion. They’re the law. Motorcycles are not exempted. They were put there by road engineers who have taken into account the road's curve, camber, elevation, as well as driver or rider's line of sight to determine if it is safe to pass. Trust them.

It is especially important to follow these lines on bridges, viaducts, tunnels, and flyovers. There is no extra room for cars or motorcycles to avoid a counterflowing vehicle on these kinds of roads. So just wait and follow.

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A solid yellow line also marks out bus lanes in some cities. Even if it’s just one line, it means the same thing. Private vehicles shouldn’t cross over them. Buses shouldn’t cross either. Wait for the dashed yellow line. These mean you can enter the bus lane to make your turn.

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Box junction

You’ve probably seen this before. It’s a yellow box with an X or X's inside. They’re usually placed in busy intersections in big cities. They mark out areas of high traffic flow in multiple directions. They may be placed on intersections with or without traffic lights. Because vehicles cross and turn on these intersections, they should be kept clear. No vehicle should be inside the box unless they have a green light. You shouldn’t even wait inside this area even if you are about to turn left. Unless they say it’s ok, traffic enforcers will catch any vehicle inside the box and charge them with blocking an intersection. So wait before it. Let them tell you when to wait inside.

If you’re inside the box when the traffic turns red, you will also be caught by a traffic enforcer. Thankfully, many traffic lights now have countdown timers. If there are only 3 seconds left for the green light and you're still far away from the box, slow down and wait for the next light. Remember, the yellow traffic light means “slow down,” not “speed up.” The only vehicles that can continue driving during a yellow light are those already in the box junction.

Even if your light is green but the intersection is already blocked, do not move forward if there is no room for you on the other side. You can be caught and charged with blocking the intersection.

Lane arrows

Have you been caught for disregarding traffic signs, making an illegal turn, or swerving? Chances are, it’s because you ignored the lane arrows.

Lane arrows tell you which lane you should be on if you need to go straight, turn left, or right. These indicate the direction each vehicle in that lane must travel. As such, if you see an arrow pointing forward, keep going. Arrows pointing left or right indicate you must turn at the appropriate intersection, fork or junction. If you go straight while on the lane, you will be caught by a traffic enforcer. Arrows with two directions —one pointing forward and another pointing left or right — mean you can do either action in that lane.

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If you encounter an upside down triangle, that is a yield sign. This means you are approaching a road that has the right of way. That means they can keep going without stopping or slowing down. If you get into an accident with them, it is YOUR fault. When you see this mark, stop. Only enter when it is clear.

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Look out for arrows

Of course, these lane arrows are useless if you stick too close to the car or bike ahead. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. This helps you spot, not only potential dangers, but these arrows too.

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Heavy traffic and can’t see the arrows? There’s another clue on the road. Look above for overhead signs and stoplights. These green signs with places are actually aligned to the lane where you’re supposed to be if you’re heading there. Need to get to Balintawak? Stay on the same lane as the sign. Change lane, when the sign changes lane.

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Stoplights are aligned to lanes too. That’s done on purpose so you can tell which lane goes forward, is left turn only, or must make a U-turn. Stoplights on islands or the curb are for the lane closest to them. So if it’s only a left turn stop light and you go forward, you will be caught by a traffic enforcer.

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How to use them

Naturally, the road isn't perfect. Some lane markings will be faded, absent, or even blacked out because the rules or directions have changed. You have to keep a sharp eye for new lines or signs that will tell you where to go.

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When you’re confused, slow down, and take a good look around you. It's better to slow down in an intersection even if you have right of way. Always indicate before changing lanes. If you missed a turn, don’t cross a busy road just to make it. If a left turn, U-turn, right turn or flyover is a little difficult to get to from your lane (i.e. requires changing two lanes within 10 meters), then you're probably on the wrong lane already. Don't swerve to get to it. You could cause an accident. Instead, keep going forward and look out for road markings or signs. You might be surprised to find you have a second chance to get to where you need to go. If not, find a way to get back to your turn off further down the road.

Many riders may continue to blatantly violate these rules. Don’t be like them. Don't lose heart, and keep on the right lane. If each of us does our part to drive conscientiously, we may improve the flow of traffic one motorcycle at a time.