This article was edited on 7 August 2020 following feedback from commentators
Yellow lines have been with us since the late 1950s, but were first officially codified in the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions in 1964. The system has evolved over time but it still poses numerous headaches for those seeking to manage traffic. Is it time to have one final and comprehensive push to fix these lines given the effects of Covid-19 and the sudden realisation that town centres and areas with parking control need to adapt to survive?
Between 1964 and 1981, yellow lines were divided into three categories:
- Double yellow – no waiting during every working day and additional times (in practice “at any time”);
- Solid single yellow – no waiting during the working day (in practice usually “Monday to Saturday”);
- Dashed single yellow – no waiting during any other periods (in practice “limited waiting” for a specific time period in any given day, but the occasional short length (e.g. one hour at lunchtime) restriction seen around railway stations could be applied as well).
These markings prohibited waiting, but not loading, which were denoted by ‘kerb blips’:
- Three blips – no loading during every working day and additional times;
- Two blips – no loading during every working day;
- One blip – no loading at other times.
Signs were similar to what we’d expect today for the double and solid single lines – apart from the start of a line system was also denoted by a standalone “no waiting” sign. Some of these still survive in cities even today despite the requirement for them to exist being removed in 1975.
The big difference was the wording and appearance of signs in association with the dashed yellow line. This was a blue sign, which had a design style change in 1975.
This system largely remained until 1994 when the TSRGD was re-written once again, but prior to this there was a change in definitions given in the Highway Code to define the “working day” – this was given as typically between 7am and 7pm. It was all convoluted and people didn’t really grasp this “working day” distinction. Given the Regulations were issued in 1994, the then DoT and latterly DETR gave local authorities until February 1999 to introduce the new simplified system:
- Double yellow – no waiting at any time;
- Single yellow – no waiting during the times specified on a traffic sign;
- Two blips – no loading at any time;
- One blip – no loading during the times specified on a traffic sign.
The dashed yellow line with blue sign was removed from the Regulations and replaced with parking bays. This should have been completed by February 1999, but the occasional blue sign remains. This causes no end of trouble for civil parking enforcement introduced post-2004.
In 2002, the requirement for signs in association with double yellow lines was removed, but you still required them for kerb blips, because these in themselves are massive maintenance headaches given the condition of kerbs, not least to add that there is a huge visual clutter problem added here. Incidentally, on the topic of kerb blips, one massive exemption to yellow lines applies with regard to disabled badge holders. Provided the vehicle is no left in an obstructive location, a disabled badge holder may park for up to three hours on yellow lines provided no additional loading controls are in place. This causes problems in shopping areas where a major road would be obstructed by such parking but it is undesirable to restrict loading by shops. As a result kerb blips are often introduced as part of the scheme and this causes a massive political backlash during the consultation stage.
As the Regulations evolved onward from 1994 an alternative method in areas where yellow lines were seen as environmentally intrusive was brought into use but required authorisation – this is the Restricted Parking Zone. This behaves in the sense that all waiting (and optionally loading) is banned except where specifically permitted by marked parking spaces. In the 2010s, the need for site specific authorisation on these was formally removed, although many authorities do not take advantage of this due to the fact many drivers either don’t understand the lack of lines or deliberately abuse them and claim confusion to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal. One town – where I helped start the ball rolling on this when I unilaterally convinced the borough council that yellow lines and kerb blips would destroy the aesthetics of a £40m town centre development scheme – is now working to expand on this zone and make the whole central core inside its inner ring road a Restricted Parking Zone to reduce visual clutter and remove the need to repaint road markings every 18 months.
In 2011, a promise was given that parking controls would be reviewed and any findings of this review may have formed part of the 2015 TSRGD but opposition by local newspapers that were afraid of losing their lucrative TRO advertising revenue resulted in no substantial changes whatsoever, and subsequently we remain with a less than satisfactory system of parking control. It really needs to be simple and something foreign visitors can pick up without needing to read the Highway Code first. It is worth noting that the implications of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic have brought about temporary changes to advertising processes and it may be interesting to see if these work their way into any degree of permanence.
The first thing we need to establish is that yellow lines are an absolute parking control. If the road layout requires control of parking for safety reasons then this should not be undermined by allowing specific classes of road user to ignore it. Designated and safe parking provision for disabled badge holders should be designed through use of kerb re-alignment or road marking modifications to allow a correct width bay to be provided. The current exemption is a token provision to show ‘something has been done’ when in reality is detrimental to road safety and traffic flow.
Once that principle is established, I propose a revised lining system to eliminate the need for kerb blips and upright signs in order to reduce maintenance liability and visual clutter. This is simply achieved as follows:
- Double yellow – no waiting or loading at any time. Double yellows would become the most restrictive lines there are as a result. No repeaters would be needed but I would recommend bringing back the 1964 commencement and termination signs as done with Clearways.
- Single yellow – no waiting or loading during times given on an upright sign. Outside of the times given this effectively is an uncontrolled kerbline.
Loading activities would require a clearly marked bay – which could be timed to operate outside of peak times or at any time. This would be crystal clear to foreign delivery drivers that they can leave a vehicle to load and unload without risking a Penalty Charge Notice.
This system provides three types of road marking to denote restrictions, is simpler, tidier, and would have saved a lot of trouble in 2016 if introduced on the back of scrapping the need for a TRO. Alas, it wasn’t to be and therefore we are stuck with a system that annoys everyone.