Question I was recently driving behind a couple of slow moving cars on a cross-country route. There were very few opportunities to overtake, until I had a chance on a long straight stretch. I overtook both cars, but as I passed the lead car I found myself on the wrong side of double continuous white lines. I could not get back onto my side immediately because there was a cyclist taking up quite a bit of the road (I had not seen him before then). I therefore travelled about 30 yards before being able to get back onto my side of the road. A couple of miles further on, I was stopped by the police and I now have a summons for crossing the double white lines. Do I have a defence based on the fact that I didn’t cross the lines, but was already on the other side of the road before the white lines began? If that is not a defence, what about the fact that I couldn’t get back onto my side of the road until I had passed the cyclist? I believe that you can cross double white lines to pass a cyclist.
Answer The law requires that drivers on roads governed by double white lines stay with the offside of the vehicle on the nearside of double white lines if the lines are both continuous, or the line nearest the driver is continuous. So on the face of it, you are guilty of the offence. True, there is a defence where you have to cross a nearside continuous line to pass a bicycle, but only if the cyclist is travelling at no more than 10mph – something often hard to judge. Your problem, however, is that you were already on the wrong side of the road before you reached the cyclist. There can be a defence where a driver has crossed or straddled the continuous white line in circumstances beyond their control. You might argue that as you started overtaking lawfully the fact that you were on the wrong side of the continuous white line after the manoeuvre was beyond your control. A similar case from 1984 saw courts decide there is no defence where a driver chooses to overtake and then finds it impossible to get back. The courts take the view that a driver’s experience of road layouts should tell them that there could be a white lines system in place. There are other possible defences, particularly if the road has not been well maintained. The lines must be white and illuminated by reflecting material and have studs incorporating reflectors between the two lines. There are minimum and maximum measurements for the lines themselves and how far apart they should be. At least one curved arrow pointing to your side of the road is required to be placed as a warning to the approach, although the distance of that warning arrow prior to the start of the white line system is not specified. It might be worth checking the road to see whether all of the requirements have been met, because there is no offence if the white line system does not comply with the regulations. As is often the case, however, the law then makes an exception by saying that if the non-compliance with the regulations is trivial then you would not have a defence. What is “trivial”? All a matter of fact and degree I’m afraid, but any non-compliance gives you an opportunity to argue the point.
Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.