Rhode Island Car Accident Laws Staff Profile Picture
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Rhode Island car accident fatalities have not followed the national trend. While crash fatalities across the US rose in 2021 and reached their highest level in 16 years, the numbers for Rhode Island showed approximately the same rate in 2020 and 2021, with 67 deaths in vehicular accidents in 2020 and 63 in 2021. 

Historically, the state’s deadliest year was 2017, with 84 crash fatalities that included 21 pedestrians; 2020 was considered the second deadliest in 12 years. Neighboring states again saw traffic deaths climb in 2022, while Rhode Island only recorded 50 roadway fatalities. This rate has been among the lowest in 20 years.

Four of the most common types of car accidents occurring in the state are the following: head-on collisions, rear-end crashes, rollover accidents, and side-impact collisions. According to local drivers, the worst intersections in Rhode Island to pass through are the following:

  • Interstate 95

  • RI 146, Sayles Hill Road

  • RI 146 (South)

  • Interstate 295 (South)

  • Interstate 295, RI 37

  • 6/10 Connector

One of the common causes of car crashes in the state is distracted driving due to visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. Other causes include cell phone use while driving, driver fatigue, and icy, snowy, and slushy road conditions. Rollover accidents often occur due to driving vehicles with high centers of gravity; roadway hazards, obstructions, and abnormalities; the sudden turning of the steering wheel; speeding; DUI; and hit-and-run.

This article provides information on state car accident laws, auto insurance requirements and claims, and various legal resources.

Rhode Island Left or Right Turn Intersection or “Right of Way” Law

The Right-of-Way law states that before a driver turns left or right on the streets of Rhode Island, they must give other drivers the right of way. They should let vehicles traveling in the opposite direction pass if they can cause a hazard. In addition, drivers must give way to pedestrians who intend to use the crosswalks they will be driving through. 

Only when the intersection is already clear can the driver in question signal and proceed to make the turn. Other drivers approaching the intersection from opposite directions must then yield to the driver making the turn.

This law is very important because certain intersections in the state have been identified as prone to crashes and are known to be the site of serious accidents. These intersections, which include Interstate highways, have been enumerated in this article’s introduction and have seen car, truck, and motorcycle accidents that caused serious head injuries and fatalities. 

Rhode Island Mobile Phone Driving or Hands-Free Driving Law

Using a cell phone while driving is illegal in Rhode Island. Drivers may not use personal wireless communication devices and wireless handsets to compose, send, or read text messages on public streets and highways in the state. They also cannot take selfies, read eBooks, play mobile games, or use social media while they drive.

The only exception to this law is when a driver has to call emergency services such as law enforcement and public safety officers; fire safety officials; and personnel and medical technicians who provide emergency medical services such as first aid.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents not only in Rhode Island but in the entire country, with over 3,000 fatalities recorded in just a single year across the US If you get into an accident and the other driver was guilty of violating this law, you can use this fact against them to claim damages.

You can prove the other party’s negligence if you observed them using a cell phone during the crash, saw a cell phone in their car, or if they admit to using their device. Through your lawyer, you may also have the ability (through subpoena) to check cell phone activity for texts or calls when the accident occurred. This can serve as evidence to support your claim.

Rhode Island “Following Too Closely” or the Rear-End Collision Law

Rhode Island prohibits drivers from following too closely and from not leaving a prudent or reasonable gap between their vehicle and the car in front of them. This traffic violation is also known as tailgating and may cause offenders to be at fault in cases where a vehicular accident occurs because of their actions. 

What constitutes a prudent and reasonable gap, however, varies depending on several factors, which include highway and traffic conditions, the speed of surrounding vehicles, and the weather.

When driving along residential and business districts, drivers need to leave enough space for one car to overtake them and then return in front of them on the right lane without causing unnecessary danger.

Drivers guilty of violating this law may be legally obliged to provide compensation and damages to victims if they get involved in a car crash.

This law does not apply to funeral processions and caravans with a police escort.

Rhode Island “Slow Traffic to Right” Law

Rhode Island law states that on any roadway, vehicles that are moving more slowly should stay on the right-hand lane, and as they lag behind the rest of the traffic, be mindful by hugging the right curb or staying as close as they can to the roadway’s edge.

There are exceptions to this rule, such as vehicles that are passing or are about to turn left into a driveway, private road, or intersection. Overtaking vehicles must also use the left lane to pass other vehicles that are slower.

Violating this rule entails a fine as enumerated in the state’s statute on the adjudication of traffic offenses. Fines for other traffic violations are also indicated here.

Failure to adhere to this statute may cause hazards on the road since slow-moving vehicles on the left lane may be in danger of collision with fast-moving vehicles, while fast-moving vehicles on the right lane may collide with slower-moving vehicles on that side of the road.

Rhode Island Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements

In Rhode Island, the state mandates that vehicles have a minimum coverage of $25,000 for each person who incurs bodily injury in an accident. It also requires a minimum of $50,000 for each accident so that if a driver is liable for the injuries of more than one person, the latter amount may cover their expenses within the limit.

Above these minimum coverage levels, individuals may choose to increase their coverage limits depending on their desire to provide better protection for their assets from lawsuits. A higher level of coverage will naturally have a higher premium.

As for property damage, a $25,000 minimum liability coverage is required by the state of Rhode Island for every accident that an at-fault policyholder is involved in. Property damage includes damage to or destruction of others’ vehicles as well as lawns, telephone poles, fences, or buildings. The coverage is valid in an accident when the car's owner is the driver, and may also apply when other people drive their vehicle with their permission.

Optional coverage can be purchased for damages to the vehicle owner’s automobile. Car owners may also opt to get insurance for uninsured or underinsured motorists, as the state does not require this.

Coverage for underinsured drivers includes damages that the underinsured party’s insurance cannot pay for. This insurance option covers hit-and-run cases, property damage (when the vehicle can be identified), and bodily injury.

Property damage claims are subject to a $200 deductible fee. In cases where uninsured or underinsured coverage is claimed, the insurance company pays the claimant for damages and then sues the at-fault party for their negligence.

Rhode Island Is an At-Fault State for Car Accident Insurance Claims

Rhode Island, like many states, adopts the "at-fault" system (which is also known as the "tort" system) for car accident insurance claims. In an at-fault system, a plaintiff or claimant can only recover damages if they can prove that the other party in the crash was at fault.

Rhode Island Is a Pure Comparative Fault State for Car Accident Lawsuits

The state of Rhode Island follows the rule known as pure comparative fault. In this system, drivers involved in car accidents can still recover damages despite being responsible for 99% of the crash. This rule awards damages to claimants proportionate to the degree to which they are at fault.

Under this rule, the plaintiff's contributory negligence will not prevent recovery.

For example, a driver may be found to be 75% at fault compared to the other party, who is 25% to blame. The former can still initiate a lawsuit, but if the award determined by the court amounts to $100,000, they can claim only $25,000, which represents the percentage of the other party’s share of the blame in the incident.

Pure comparative fault ruling has been criticized for allowing plaintiffs who are primarily at fault to recover a portion of the award from defendants whose fault is less than the person who filed the suit. Another weakness of this system is how to accurately determine each party’s exact percentage of responsibility for causing the car crash.

Rhode Island Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents

Car accident victims who want to file claims should be aware that the state enforces a statute of limitations on auto accident lawsuits. There are time limits imposed on prospective plaintiffs after a crash. These time limits tell the victim or their family how long they have from the time of the accident to file their first complaint.

In Rhode Island, the statute of limitations is three years for car accident victims who want to sue negligent parties for personal injury. Ten years is the limitation for lawsuits that concern damage to property. Claims of this type involve possessions such as land, homes, and personal properties such as cars.

The rationale for imposing these limitations is to prevent an indefinite threat of a lawsuit by plaintiffs against negligent parties. It also helps keep witness testimonies and physical evidence reliable and fresh when the case is handled. 

If the lawsuit is filed beyond the limitation period, the court will usually dismiss the complainant’s claim.

In some medical malpractice cases, the rule of “discovery of harm” can be applied. Under this rule, the injury victim may still file a lawsuit even after the statute of limitations has passed since the counting of the time limit would start at the date that they have or should have discovered the injury and its cause. The burden of proof is on them to support their case, and the process is confusing and complicated. In this instance, they could benefit from the legal guidance and advice of an experienced car accident lawyer.

Average Settlement for Rhode Island Car Accident Lawsuits

Approximately 38,000 people die in car accidents every year, with many more victims sustaining bodily injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that monetary damages from traffic collisions reach 55 billion dollars annually in collective lost wages and medical costs.

An average car accident settlement estimate is impossible to make because the personal injury claims that are settled in the state each year number in the thousands. Furthermore, the law does not require insurance companies and claimants to report their settlement amounts.

Lawyers who work on contingency get paid when plaintiffs receive a settlement. A contingency fee differs from a per-job or hourly fee by being a percentage of the client's award from winning their personal injury case. If the client loses the case, then there is no attorney's fee owed. In Rhode Island, an attorney-client contingency fee agreement must be put in writing. 

Legal Resources for Rhode Island Car Accident Victims

Rhode Island Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

The Lawyer Referral Service (or LRS) is a division of the Rhode Island Bar Association.n The organization refers people who need legal representation to reliable and competent lawyers within its ranks. An attorney provides a half-hour free consultation with the potential client. The lawyer then allows the client to decide if they wish to continue hiring them should the case require further legal work.

Income guidelines regulated by the federal government may qualify certain clients for legal assistance and reduced attorney fees. Clients may also request other referrals should their initial contact be unable to handle their case. 

The Lawyer Referral Service may be contacted at (401) 421-7799.

Rhode Island Judiciary

The mission of the Rhode Island Judiciary is to administer justice with honor, maintain independence, and protect and serve democracy’s ideals for the benefit of the state’s citizens. To this end, its website strives to modernize court transactions through an electronic filing system and case information access for self-represented litigants and attorneys. Court papers may be filed through these online systems, and case information and documents can be accessed from the courthouses’ public computers.

Other website features include court calendars, contact information, and criminal information search functions accessible through the Quick Links section. Its Public Resources section features an attorney search function and court forms.

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income

A car accident may leave victims with long-lasting and severe negative health effects. Their injuries may impede their capacity to work, which often extends for a long period of time. In such cases, victims may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) federal programs administered by Rhode Island.

SSDI and SSI benefits help victims pay for needs such as daily expenses and medical care. They may be eligible for these benefits if they incurred whiplash, fractured bones, joint injuries, severe burns, back injuries, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, PTSD, and vision and hearing loss due to the car accident if the disability is long-lasting.

Citizens may file their application at the Office of Rehabilitation Services, run by the state’s Department of Human Services.

Rhode Island State Police

The Rhode Island State Police is a statewide organization whose mandate is to provide law enforcement services to Rhode Island residents through patrol, support, investigative functions, and cooperation with various local, state, and federal agencies. It serves car accident victims by handling and providing crash reports and conducting accident investigations for various legal purposes.

Accident reports can be requested through the mail by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a $15 money order or check to the recipient, "The State of Rhode Island." You may send the envelope to:

Rhode Island State Police Accident Bureau
311 Danielson Pike
North Scituate
RI 02857

You may also contact the agency at (401) 444-1000.

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Louis W. Grande aims to provide exceptional legal representation to clients based on the firm’s core values of Experience, Integrity, and Diligence. Since founding his firm in 1990, he has built a thriving practice that focuses on building strong relationships with clients and providing them with the added value they expect and deserve. He has recovered millions of dollars on behalf of injury victims. Visit: