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Rhode Island Bicycle Laws

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Between 2016 and 2020, Rhode Island’s bicyclist fatalities made up more than 2% of the state’s total traffic-related deaths. As part of its initiatives to curb bicycle accidents, the Rhode Island Office on Highway Safety works with local stakeholders to launch programs that educate cyclists on road safety and proper bicycle operation. In addition, the state enforces different traffic ordinances, ranging from guidelines involving equipment and helmet use to rules on bicycle riding. Even as the state managed to reach the end of 2022 with zero bicycle deaths, its government agencies continue to renew their efforts to preserve the safety and security of cyclists.

In case a bicyclist does get into an accident, Rhode Island has a number of legal and insurance regulations that dictate the potential amount of damages they can recover as they take legal action. These regulations allow victims to weigh their options regarding filing deadlines and applicable insurance policies as they work with attorneys to prepare a personal injury claim or lawsuit against at-fault parties.

Rhode Island Bicycle Helmet and Equipment Regulations

Rhode Island law requires all bicyclists aged 15 and under to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, whether as an operator or a passenger. Helmets must fall within the safety standards set by the state or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and must be secured to the wearer’s head with straps. However, failure to wear a helmet is not counted as contributory negligence or admissible evidence in any civil action if a bicyclist is involved in an accident.

In terms of equipment, bicycles used at night must be equipped with a front lamp capable of emitting a white light up to a minimum distance of 500 feet. They must also have a rear reflector visible from at least 600 feet when directly in front of a motor vehicle’s headlamps. A rear lamp that emits a red light visible from up to 500 feet can be used alongside the reflector. In addition, a bicycle must have side reflectors that are a minimum of 20 square inches on the wheels and are visible from at least 500 feet.

Other types of required equipment include pedal reflectors visible from a minimum distance of 200 feet and brakes that allow a bicycle to stop within 25 feet on a dry, clean, and level pavement at a speed of 10 mph. In terms of prohibited equipment, bicycles must not have any sirens or whistles.

Rhode Island Ordinances on Bicycle Operation

Rhode Island traffic laws dictate that bicyclists have the same rights and duties as motorists. As such, the state allows bicyclists to ride on the shoulders of most highways, except those where bicycles are explicitly prohibited. In addition, it imposes different ordinances to help bicyclists avoid any untoward dangers and prevent them from causing accidents as they ride on state roads.

These ordinances include the following:

  • No bicycle may carry more people than it is intended to or designed for, except children aged six or younger in a rear-mounted bicycle carrier or trailer that meets the safety standards of ASTM International.

  • No bicyclist may attach their bicycle or themselves to any motor vehicle on a roadway.

  • Bicyclists may ride up to two abreast on paths, trails, or areas on roads specifically designated for bicycle use; two bicyclists riding abreast must ride within a single lane when on a laned roadway.

  • Bicyclists must use proper hand signals when intending to turn left or right at the last 100 feet before their turn; however, bicyclists do not need to continuously signal if they need their hand to maintain control of their bicycle.

  • Bicyclists may ride on crosswalks and sidewalks, where they shall have the same rights and duties as pedestrians unless specified otherwise by traffic-control devices.

  • Bicyclists must always ride as close to the right side of the road as practicable; they must also exercise due care when passing a moving or standing vehicle (if they are allowed to do so).

  • A bicyclist must always have at least one hand on their bicycle’s handlebars; they cannot carry any item, package, or article that prevents them from using both hands to control and operate their bicycle.

  • Bicyclists may park on a sidewalk provided they do not impede traffic unless prohibited by traffic signs and devices; they may also park alongside other bicycles and at any angle on road areas where parking is allowed. 

In addition to these rules, bicyclists may also be required to submit their bicycles to a police officer for inspection if there is reasonable cause to believe that their bicycle is unsafe for operation or not properly equipped.

Is Rhode Island a No-Fault State for Bike Accidents?

No, Rhode Island is a fault-based state that allows bicycle accident victims to recover compensation from at-fault parties using insurance claims or personal injury lawsuits. To pay for the damages of victims, offending motorists use their liability coverage, which they are required to have under state law. They can purchase limits that are higher than the required minimum to ensure that they have enough to shoulder the victims' losses.

The minimum amounts required for liability coverage in Rhode Island are:

  • $25,000 for bodily injuries per person.

  • $50,000 for bodily injuries per accident.

  • $25,000 for property damage.

In addition, bicyclists may obtain and use uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage to cover part of their losses in an accident. Although these policies are not required, they are recommended for bicyclists in the event of an accident with an at-fault driver who has insufficient or no insurance. The minimum UM and UIM coverage amounts in Rhode Island are also $25,000 and $50,000 for bodily injuries per person and per accident, respectively.

How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island does not have any limitations on personal injury damage awards, allowing bicycle accident victims to recover maximum compensation from offending drivers in a personal injury lawsuit. Potential damage awards include economic losses such as medical, rehabilitative, and repair costs, as well as lost income and loss of earning capacity. Meanwhile, non-economic damages refer to intangible factors like pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.

However, Rhode Island prevents plaintiffs from immediately recovering damages related to pain and suffering in accidents that lead to wrongful death. In these cases, plaintiffs must first prove that the deceased victim experienced pain and suffering before passing from their injuries and that they did not die immediately after the accident.

Another factor that can affect a victim’s damage award is Rhode Island’s pure comparative negligence rule. This principle deducts the total amount of damages a plaintiff can recover if they are partially at fault for the accident in question, with the deduction being equal to the percentage of their assigned fault. However, unlike in other states that bar plaintiffs from recovering damages if their liability reaches or exceeds a given percentage, victims in Rhode Island may recover damages even if they are 99% at fault.

Lastly, if a plaintiff files a lawsuit against the state or government agency, they can only recover up to $100,000 in damages. This cap may apply in cases where an accident is caused by a defect on a road that is under an agency’s jurisdiction.

What Is Rhode Island’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?

Bicycle accident victims and their families must take legal action against at-fault parties within three years, in line with Rhode Island’s statute of limitations. The deadline begins on the date of the underlying accident or the date of the victim’s passing if the case results in wrongful death. If an accident involves only property damage, plaintiffs have up to 10 years to take legal action. Any plaintiff who tries to file past these deadlines will most likely have their lawsuit or claim dismissed by the court.

However, there are certain exceptions where Rhode Island’s statute of limitations does not count down or begins at a later time. For example, if the defendant in an accident case is absent from the state or departs before any legal action is taken, the statute will not count the period of their absence and will only start counting down upon their return. Additionally, if a defendant fraudulently conceals their liability in a case, the statute only commences once the period of their concealment ends.

The state also allows other exceptions to its statute of limitations if the person entitled to take legal action is under 18, deemed legally insane, or absent from the United States. For these cases, the statute only begins once the person turns 18, recovers from insanity, or returns to the country.

Legal Resources for Rhode Island Bicycle Accident Victims

Rhode Island Bar Association

The Rhode Island Bar Association’s website has several online services for visitors with specific legal queries and concerns. It has a Community Resources section where people can search for links to resources involving different legal topics. In addition, its Lawyer Referral Service is open to state residents who wish to consult with a specific attorney regarding preliminary case concerns and potential legal representation for free for up to 30 minutes. Lastly, the website provides access to various informative sections that discuss basic areas of the law, ranging from temporary detention to post-vehicular accident guidelines.

Rhode Island State Police - Obtaining Accident Reports

The Rhode Island State Police provides informative assistance to those who want to obtain copies of specific motor vehicle accident reports. People can visit the State Police’s accident report section on the Department of Public Safety website for details on getting report copies online via BuyCrash or by mail. Those who seek to order a copy via mail must send their request to the Rhode Island State Police’s Accident Bureau at 311 Danielson Pike, North Scituate. They must also send a check or money order worth $15, payable to the State of Rhode Island, along with their request.

Rhode Island Judiciary

The Rhode Island Judiciary’s website provides access to information concerning the members, contact numbers, and calendars of the state’s District and Superior Courts, as well as the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. Its Public Resources section covers a diverse selection of court-related topics, including courthouse rules, annual reports, electronic case filing, and access to case information. Website visitors may also use the Attorney Search service to read about computerized public information concerning specific lawyers within the state.

Rhode Island Bicycle Commuter Guide

The Rhode Island Bicycle Commuter Guide is a free informative resource that is published by the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition. It informs bicyclists of the state’s various guidelines involving bicycle operation and safety, as well as details concerning necessary equipment and recommended riding attire. Additionally, it has sections that discuss bicycle inspection, general maintenance routines, proper hand signals, and post-accident procedures. It also has a directory containing the contact information of bicycle-related groups and associations throughout the state, including the League of American Bicyclists and Bike Newport.

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