The sanctity of double lines

Posted on August 17th, 2007 in Opinion,Safety by Julian Edgar

doublelinessm.jpgOver the years that I’ve been driving, my respect for various road rules has, I have to say, varied.

I’ve always respected drink driving laws – in fact, after driving a car once after having had just a few drinks (and so being well under the limit), I noted how my prowess had faltered and resolved to never drive again with any alcohol concentration at all.

But I’ve never had the same belief in speed limits – they’re simply too arbitrary, especially in their ignoring of car competence, the road quality and driving conditions.

And as for laws regarding car modification, I must say that I often have little respect for these.

But there’s one road law that I’ve always had the utmost belief in – the sanctity of the white line in the middle of the road.

Even before I had a driving licence, I remember riding with a mate in his car. He was driving on a country road and, casually as anything, he cut most right-hand corners, so drifting over the white dividing line. After he’d done this perhaps 5 or 10 times I could stand it no longer and complained long and loudly. His response: “I can see what’s coming the other way” (and when he was crossing the white line, nothing was) I lambasted.  He didn’t do any more line crossing for the rest of the drive…

One of the elements of driving skill is staying precisely in your own lane, whether you’re driving at 100 km/h or 150 km/h. In fact, the only time I have ever deliberately crossed the white line (except when overtaking, of course) has been when I’ve been going for a top speed run on a deserted, straight-as-an-arrow stretch of Outback road.

And crossing double (barrier) lines I consider one of the best examples of utterly stupid driving. 

The problem is, I see this occur on a daily basis. Yes, every day. Today, for example, I saw it twice. I live in the Gold Coast hinterland, where the roads are hilly, windy, narrow and increasingly populated.

On the way down from the little mountain on which I live, a motorcyclist happily crossed double lines to firstly overtake me, and then to overtake the car in front. There was so little room that in fact he was forced to cut back in: the car I was following had to brake.

Motorcyclists on this road annoy me considerably: they apparently consider themselves fast and overtake on double lines, roaring past traffic doing the speed limit. But when I have taken the bait and stayed with them, once they reach corners, their panic is clear to see. As I wrote here, on these roads it is ridiculously easy to go faster than motorbikes. Even in my Honda Insight, when going down the hill, I can go fast enough to leave them behind. In Frank the EF Falcon, I can do it going up or down – and that applies to every motorcycle I have ever bothered to challenge. (And I’m not trying to trumpet my abilities: my wife can do just the same.)

So the barrier-line crossing motorcycles especially piss me off: they’ not even fast machines being vastly slowed by normal traffic.

But I think even more dangerous are those motorists who probably consider themselves amongst the most respectful of the law.

On these roads there are stretches of very steep, heavily curved, two-lane black-top, the sort where tractors and heavily laden trucks are forced to slow to a crawl. It normally takes only a few minutes before there’s a crocodile of cars behind them. Rather than pull off the road, stop, let the cars go past and then continue, what many of these drivers do is to put their two left-hand wheels on the dirt and then wave the following drivers past.

On double lines.

This is incredibly dangerous. The double lines – indicative of a blind curve or crest – prevent vision of oncoming traffic. The slower vehicles never pull right off the road, so the waved-past following traffic is forced over the lines – into the path of the (unseen) oncoming traffic.

The truck drivers apparently think they’re doing the right thing – letting the cars past. The majority of the following drivers also consider themselves to be doing the right thing – following the “pass me” direction of the truck driver. Trouble is, the poor bastard coming the other way is confronted with a car on his side of the road, coming straight for him and unable to pull left because of the truck!


Today, that ‘poor bastard’ was my wife, faced with a ute pulling a trailer, on her side of the road and bearing down on her. I was passenger and so I heartily agreed with her flashing of the headlights and the waving of one vertical finger.

And what if in these conditions there was a collision that went to court? You can be damn’ sure that the person who responded to the truck driver’s ‘waving on’ would be in the wrong.

They’d crossed double lines….

12 Responses to 'The sanctity of double lines'

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  1. Richard said,

    on August 17th, 2007 at 7:58 am

    I have been waved on by car drivers when riding my bike in the same situation you have described. They move over to the left and you can see an accident waiting to happen. They actually run the left wheels off the road onto the unmade verge. That’s incredibly dangerous. It also showers the following vehicle in rocks and debris.
    The best response is to hang back further until they pull back on the road. Easy enough to pass later on a straight stretch.

  2. Edward said,

    on August 17th, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Are you trying to give Jeremy Clarkson a run for his money in the fine art of motorcycle bashing? You really, REALLY need to get your bike licence and try it just once. Then you “might” understand why we ride these slow, annoying death-traps which you can so easily keep up with. I’d guess a substantial percentage of your readership also own bikes, please don’t alienate us.

    As for the rest of the blog, I totally concur.

  3. Ben said,

    on August 17th, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    I’ll second (third?) the comment about motorbikes. I have seen a few riders treat the area between the two lines (yeah, that inch and a half of tarmac) as their own lane. Riding between two cars side-by-side, often when one is overtaking the other. If their timing was off, or one of the drivers had sneezed, it would have been quite fun indeed.

  4. Gordon Drennan said,

    on August 17th, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Sorry Edward, Julian is right about motorcycles. Motorcycles quite often do have superior acceleration to other road vehicles. But motorcyclists have delusions of grandeur about the cornering and braking abilities of their chosen vehicle. There are a lot of places, notably very tight slow corners, that a car can drive past most road bikes ridden by most riders. And boy, don’t you get black glares when you dare to do it, especially when its a group of riders and they all lose face with each other by being passed by a car. But its because in a slow tight corner a car can and a car driver can dare use all the cornering power available, knowing the car will just squeal its tyres and object if you take it to the limit, whereas the biker trying to doing the same will end up on the road and potentially under an oncoming vehicle.

  5. Robert W said,

    on August 17th, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    I totally agree with this gripe. Personally, I think the problem lies more with the people who cross those lines, than the person who waves them by (with good, but misguided, intent). Also, worse than this is after one car goes, 25 more will follow! I see this in Tasmania in a different situation; giving way to oncoming traffic at an intersection before turning right. One car will push in, failing to give way, and 7 more will follow, all the way through the green, amber and often red light of that intersection. Is it just in Tassie, or do sheep drive the majority of cars on Australia’s roads?

  6. Marty said,

    on August 18th, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    Sorry to hijack the point of this blog, but i’d like to be another one to agree with the lack of cornering pace of a lot of motorcycles, and I’d like to back it up with some personal experience:

    Last year i was lucky enough to be in the south west of Germany and found myself (on two occasions) at Nurburg.
    I duly bought myself a 4 lap ticket of the old ‘ring and headed out in our (brand new, leased) Peugeot 407 diesel, a most annoying car as we could not figure out how to permanantly turn off the stability control…
    But i digress,
    On my laps of the fabled ring, i found myself overtaken down the straight by a lot of cars and bikes.. not surprising really.. but i was astonished, and annoyed, at how often the bikes would then be so much slower in the corners than the pug. To the point i’d have to try to overtake around the outside on the corner! And this is a place where, while there are dangers, there’s NO chance of a car coming the other way, so you’d hope that the riders would be at least doing 8/10th or more.. (Maybe?)

    BTW, if you ever get a chance to drive the ‘ring.. Do it! No matter what you drive!
    And if you can get a seat in the ‘ring taxi… even better. But a word of warning, do that last! Or any laps you do yourself in your own car (unless the car is something special) will feel very slow and almost boring!

    As for the double lines. I couldn’t agree more, I would very rarely cross them, but i think some roads need their markings revised, as there are many places where the visibility is brilliant, and yet there are double lines. And the same goes the other way, i’ve seen many dashed lines on roads where you’d have to be mad to risk the overtake…

  7. Richard said,

    on August 19th, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    LOL i find the motorcycle rider bashing quite funny. Why would you expect the “average” motorcyclist to be better at their craft than the “average” motorist? Just like you get the fools who buy a fast car who can’t navigate a corner with any skill, so you get the motorcyclists that are only fast in a straight line. And guess what, motorcyclist of any skill find these chumps just as annoying as YOU! 🙂

  8. Sean said,

    on August 20th, 2007 at 7:08 am

    Your Honda Insight with it’s incredible 10.6 second run to 100km/h and top speed of 180km/h can outrun a bike down a hill? *insert appreciative whistle here* I’m pretty sure even the humble CB250 would keep pace with that kind of acceleration.

    As Edward suggested, instead of writing disparaging and uninformed comments, how about actually getting in the saddle and giving it a try.

    I think you’ll find most motorcyclists aren’t in it for the out and out speed but the experience; if you haven’t ridden you don’t understand it.

    Yes most cars corner faster than bikes, its simple physics – more rubber and more contact surface, and you have two additional wheels to make up for any miscalculation. Yes there are many motorcyclists who attempt to over-ride their bike, past the bike’s or their own ability. Yes there are some reckless people who overtake over solid white lines, but last time I checked there were a lot of cars that do the same.

    That said, do you ever wonder why the mentality of “cagers and us” pervades the bike community? Most riders recognise the limitations, the dangers and the shortfalls, and conversely the joys of riding. Most car drivers wrap themselves up in their protective cocoon or cage oblivious and indifferent to other road users.

    How many times do you see drivers, and this is whether I’m in the car or on the bike, that think like Ben – there is only an inch and half between you and the line; half the time you could fit at least another car and half between you and the vehicle oncoming. As you alluded judgement plays a significant role and yet many drivers and riders seem to have great difficulty in practicing this.

    As for crossing double white lines I absolutely agree; it is an inviolate rule and something I never do either in the car or on the bike.

  9. Ben said,

    on August 20th, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Sean, i think you misunderstood my comment. I was saying that some motorcyclists treat the area BETWEEN the double lines as their own lane. Much like when they walk their bikes between cars at traffic lights, but at 110km/h. I think their theory is that because they havent completely crossed the double lines, they aren’t breaking the law. I’m ok with them doing it at lights, if they are walking the bike, but not at speed.

  10. Sean said,

    on August 20th, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Sorry Ben, I did misunderstand, I think you are spot on with trying to split whilst in motion. I’m not a fan of lanesplitting myself and try not to do it even when stationary but definitely never in motion.

  11. Mal said,

    on August 22nd, 2007 at 7:35 am

    The answer to the problem is that the truck drive who has a queue behind him porbably hasn’t bothered to look in the rear veiw mirror for a while and then decides to get generous or if they have looked they’re pretty arrogant. I agree that they should be pulling over and stopping completely to let all the traffic past, in a location that’s sympathetic to doing so. This not only applies to trucks!! I think in this situation car drivers are worse!

  12. George said,

    on June 6th, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Much as it is admirable and “good manners” to pull over with a slow vehicle and let faster traffic past, in many cases unless the queue behind is relatively short it is almost impossible to get back into the traffic stream again without illegally forcing the issue. The best option in many cases is to steadily proceed up the hill and then allow a lot of following traffic past when the road does open up. Depending on what you are driving and the speed limits involved this may happen automatically anyway.