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driving concerns

In most of Canada, crossing the painted double line on a highway is breaking the law, except for Ontario where lines painted on the road are visual reminders to use extra caution when passing.Getty Images/iStockphoto

I live in Ontario and I see many vehicles pass on solid double lines. Is this legal? – Denise

In most of Canada, crossing the painted double line on a highway is breaking the law.

In every province except Ontario, the law bans crossing the solid double line to enter the oncoming lane.

But in Ontario, the lines painted on the road are visual reminders to use extra caution when passing – unless there’s a sign telling you not to cross them, according to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

“The offence of crossing the yellow line doesn’t exist [in Ontario],” OPP Sergeant Kerry Schmidt said. “If there’s a sign [banning crossing the line] and you do, then you’d be charged with disobeying the sign.”

When asked whether crossing solid painted lines is legal and safe, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation sent links to the Highway Traffic Act and the Ontario Traffic Manual.

While the act doesn’t specifically ban crossing lines, section 149 states that you cannot cross into the lane of oncoming traffic if you’re approaching the crest of a hill, a curve or within 30 metres of a bridge, viaduct, tunnel or railway crossing.

Those are places where there would be solid lines on the road, Schmidt said.

But, generally, any time you see a solid line on the road, it’s a signal that it’s difficult to spot oncoming cars in time to avoid a head-on collision, Schmidt said.

“The lines are there for a reason,” he said. “Very often, there will be a dip on the road and you might not realize a car is there – especially at night – and it will just pop up.”

Blurred lines?

Here’s a quick refresher on the different lines you’ll see on the road and what they mean.

Generally, yellow lines separate traffic going in opposite directions and white lines separate lanes of traffic going in the same direction. If there’s a broken line, you can cross it to pass. If it’s solid, you shouldn’t.

Sometimes, you’ll see a double line that’s solid on one side and broken on the other. In that case, you obey the line that’s in your lane of traffic – if you have the broken line, you can pass if it’s safe.

Most provinces treat a solid line the same, whether it’s single or double – it’s illegal to cross.

But, there are a few exceptions for single solid lines. In British Columbia and Nova Scotia, for instance, the law states you can cross a solid single yellow line to pass – as long as you can do it safely.

For example, page 38 of B.C.’s driver’s handbook states that a single yellow line means “passing is allowed with extra caution.”

Page 85 of Nova Scotia’s driver’s handbook states: “A single solid yellow line marking the centre of a highway permits passing in either direction when traffic, sight distance and other conditions are ideal.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.