Can a car cross a double yellow line in Tennessee legally? This was one question that was addressed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville in Higgs v. Green, No. M2016-01369-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 11, 2017).
In this case, Plaintiff sued Defendant after a car wreck. The Plaintiff’s car’s front end collided with the rear side of Defendant’s vehicle as he crossed a double yellow line of traffic to turn across the street into a gas station. The police officer who arrived at the scene did not give him a ticket for crossing the double yellow line. The court did not allow Plaintiff to present evidence to the jury of crossing the solid double yellow line because the Plaintiff did not plead this in the complaint. Furthermore, the police officer did not put this allegation into the police report.
The jury ruled that Plaintiff was 75% responsible for the accident, while Defendant was 25% responsible. Therefore, the jury ruled in favor of Defendant and dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed. This was in part due to her contention that she should have been able to present evidence to the jury that Defendant made an illegal turn over a double yellow line.
CAN YOU CROSS A DOUBLE YELLOW LINE? OR, WHEN IS IT LEGAL TO CROSS A DOUBLE YELLOW LINE ON THE ROAD?
Crossing a double yellow line is generally illegal in Tennessee. There are two statutes that address this. The first is Tenn. Code Ann. §55-8-125, which makes it illegal for drivers to cross a double yellow line across a “divided highway.” However, in this case, the road upon which Defendant was turning was not a divided highway, so that statute does not apply.
The other statute is Tenn. Code Ann. §55-8-115(a), which requires all vehicles to drive on the right half of the road, unless one of four exceptions apply (paraphrased):
- When passing another car
- When construction closes the right side of the roadway
- When the roadway has three lanes of traffic
- The road is a one-way street
Why might this statute apply, even though it makes no explicit mention of a double yellow line? In a previous Tennessee Supreme Court case, the Court used this statute to uphold a DUI conviction. In that case, police pulled the driver over for crossing a double yellow line on several occasions. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that this statute prohibited crossing double yellow lines, unless one of the four exceptions listed above applied.
DID DEFENDANT BREAK THE LAW BY CROSSING THE DOUBLE YELLOW LINE TO LEAVE THE ROAD?
The Court in the present case held this situation was very different than the DUI case. That was because the Defendant was no longer trying to drive on the roadway. Instead, he was trying to get off the road to get to the gas station. As he was not continuing to drive but exiting the roadway, he was no longer required to only drive on the right half of the road. Therefore, the Court did not feel as though this crossing of a double yellow line was of consequence to the case.
Finally, the Court noted that the jury did consider whether Defendant was negligent in violating four other laws when the jury determined that he was only 25% responsible for the accident (paraphrased):
- Failing to yield to the right of way
- Failing to turn safely
- Failing to exercise reasonable care to avoid a collision
- Driving in a willful or wanton manner
Due to all the above, the Appeals Court affirmed the verdict in favor of Defendant.
Stanley A. Davis is a car and truck accident lawyer who has been successfully representing injured drivers, passengers and taxi cab operators in the greater Nashville area since 1997. He offers free, no obligation consultations to discuss the aftermath of an auto accident. Stan was interviewed by Fox 17 News Nashville to discuss the problem of debris on the roads causing car accidents.