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270 – Crossing the Yellow Line

Single yellow means you’re good to go when the coast is clear, double yellow means no passing, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. Nothing is ever clear cut when it comes to the varying and often conflicting provincial motor vehicle acts.

Westminster Highway fires straight across the board-flat silt of Richmond, BC’s Lulu Island. At its easternmost end, the highway skirts farms, golf courses, an opulently gilded Sikh gurdwara and a small industrial park. Most traffic going in the same direction uses the nearby East-West Connector, so Westminster Hwy. has become a quiet backroad. Maximum speed is posted at 60 kmh, and its two lanes are mostly divided by a solid single yellow line. Sightlines are excellent, intersections are few, and I habitually cross the line to pass dawdling cars.
I’ve always assumed I was doing nothing wrong. After all, if you can’t cross a solid single yellow line, what are double yellow lines for? The boys at Burnaby’s Big Six greasy spoon, where I break my fast on Sunday mornings, agreed. And they’re all experts in this field (they told me), so that was that.
Then I’m reading a story by Vancouver Police constable Sandra Glendinning in the motoring section of a local daily. A solid single yellow line means “stay on your own side,” writes Glendinning. This opinion seems to contradict the collected wisdom of my bench-racing buddies at the Big Six (eggs, bacon, home fries and toast, $3.75).
You’d expect a VPD officer to have the inside track, of course, but as is often the case with the law, it’s a little more complicated than that. In Canada, because highways are a provincial responsibility, it depends where you live.
Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act doesn’t specify what directional dividing lines actually mean: instead, section 148 (8) states “No person in charge of a vehicle shall pass or attempt to pass another vehicle going in the same direction on a highway unless the roadway, (a) in front of and to the left of the vehicle to be passed is safely free from approaching traffic…”
This implies it’s lawful to pass another vehicle even if you cross a double-yellow, and postings submitted to on-line motorcycle forums seem to support this. Then again, you’d probably be on shaky legal ground in the event of a cross-line crash.
Alberta’s Driver’s Handbook says “Yellow lines should always be on your left,” but doesn’t differentiate between single and double, and the Province’s Use of Highway and Rules of the Road (Regulation 304-2002) is worded in terms similar to Ontario’s—though it does prohibit passing on a grade or a curve if that means crossing into the oncoming traffic lane.
Under section 3.13, Sakatchewan’s Driver’s Handbook states, “Do not cross solid or double solid yellow lines,” which seems pretty unequivocal.
Solid single yellow lines don’t rate a mention in either the Manitoba Driver’s Handbook or in the provincial driving test requirements, but the Highway Traffic Act section 109 (1) states “No driver shall drive a vehicle to the left of the directional dividing line of a roadway except … when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
New Brunswick’s Rules of the Road is perfectly clear: “A solid single yellow line indicates that passing is not permitted,” while PEI asserts that “a no passing zone is indicated by a solid yellow line in the centre of the highway” in its publication, Island Information: Traffic Rules.
Nova Scotia’s Motor Vehicle Act states, “where the highway is marked with one single line, broken or solid, the driver of a vehicle shall drive the vehicle to the right of the line, except only when passing a vehicle proceeding in the same direction.” Passing on a double yellow is prohibited. The NS Driver’s Handbook summarizes: “A single solid yellow line marking the centre of the highway permits passing in either direction when traffic, sight distance and other conditions are ideal.”
Newfoundland & Labrador’s Road Users Manual says, “… there must be a broken yellow centre line on your left-hand side before you may attempt to pass,” and “a solid yellow line on your left means it is unsafe to pass.”
And in BC, the Motor Vehicle Act, part 3, section 155(c) says “One single line, broken or solid, the driver of a vehicle must drive the vehicle to the right of the line, except only when passing an overtaken vehicle.”
In summary, Ontario and Manitoba say you can cross the line to pass, but don’t specify what that line is. Alberta is unclear. Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador and PEI say it’s either unsafe or illegal to pass on a solid single yellow, while BC and Nova Scotia allow it. I could find nothing on Quebec, though the last time I was in Montreal, there didn’t seem to be any rules at all.

GLENDINNING’S STORY HAD A more serious side, though. She recounted a harrowing motorhome journey on BC’s helter-skelter Hwy. Three when she was passed aggressively and dangerously on a blind, double-yellow-lined curve by a jacked-up pickup, the driver no doubt frustrated by the lack of passing opportunities.
No one would condone dangerous driving, and however frustrating trailing a nervous driver in a rented motorhome can be, passing blind is never acceptable.
On the other hand, there are plenty of places on Canada’s highways where a motorcycle could pass perfectly safely and most cars could not. Motorcyclists have better sight lines than drivers, take up less room on the road, and their better acceleration means they can pass more quickly.
Maybe we could replace some of the double yellows with single yellows and change the rules so that a solid single yellow means “Motorcycles Okay …”
But I’m dreaming, of course.

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