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Rhode Island prides itself on two scenic regions: the New England Upland region with rough and hilly forests and lakes and the Seaboard Lowland region with sandy beaches, salt marshes, and flatter lowlands. As such, riding a motorcycle through the ocean state can be one of the most enjoyable activities any person can engage in. There is no other feeling like the exhilaration you experience on two wheels. 

Another advantage of motorcycles is that they are typically cheaper to buy and require less upkeep. It can also be easy to meet new riding buddies, and you don’t have to endure much traffic. In 2021, there were more than 24,000 registered motorcycles in the state.

That said, motorcycle riding has disadvantages. It can be tough to enjoy the experience in severe weather conditions. Riders are also more vulnerable to accidents. In fact, almost 21% of all the roadway fatalities in Rhode Island from 2017 to 2021 were motorcycle-related, based on the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan. Some causes of motorcycle accidents include impaired and reckless driving, a lack of physical protection, and a failure to navigate turns. 

To address these issues, the state adheres to the Federal Highway Association’s safe system approach, which is based on six principles: humans make mistakes, humans are vulnerable, deaths and serious injuries are unacceptable, responsibility is shared, safety is proactive, and redundancy is crucial. To implement the safe system method, road infrastructure must be designed and managed well. To summarize, the safe system approach focuses on five elements:

  • Safe road users

  • Safe vehicles

  • Safe speeds

  • Safe roads

  • Post-crash care

Furthermore, Rhode Island aims to reduce severe injuries and deaths by 25% in 2027 and zero them out in 2050. Some of the state’s strategies include providing continuous education, promoting a positive safety culture, and implementing safety countermeasures. Several laws, policies, rules, and regulations are in place to further protect the safety and lives of motor vehicle owners, passengers, and pedestrians. These will be discussed further in this article.

Rhode Island’s Special License for Motorcycles

The Rhode Island DMV issues a motorcycle license or “M” endorsement to vehicle owners who are at least 16 years old, and it has a standard driver’s license and a provisional license. The process involves undergoing a motorcycle safety course provided by the Community College of Rhode Island. The applicant should pass the knowledge test after the lecture part, the road skills test after the second riding session, and the vision test. 

Upon passing the required examination, a certificate with a six-month validity will be issued. This can be used to apply for a learner’s permit from the DMV. Once the permit has been issued, the applicant should complete a 30-day trial period before applying for a full motorcycle endorsement. 

If you hold a valid out-of-state motorcycle license, you can proceed to the DMV to file the appropriate form, present your current license, and pay the required fee. The DMV will then issue a Rhode Island license.

Rhode Island’s Motorcycle Equipment Law

Rhode Island law requires motorcyclists under 21 to wear a DOT-approved motorcycle helmet. For riders 21 and older, the state allows riding a motorcycle without a helmet. It is best, however, to have protective headgear to prevent fatal or severe head injuries. Motorcyclists should also wear eye protection. According to the Rhode Island SHSP, 50% of motorcycle fatalities from 2017 to 2021 were unhelmeted riders. Helmets also prevent the deaths of motorcycle riders by 37% and passengers by 41%. Not wearing a helmet is punishable by a fine of $85.

To get the maximum protection, your helmet should fit snugly around your head, be fastened with a chin or neck strap, have no visible signs of damage, have a face shield, and have a shatter-resistant outer shell. It should also allow airflow without fogging up and give you a clear, peripheral view. Additionally, motorcycles must have a rearview mirror, and the handlebars should not exceed 15 inches above the motorcycle seat’s uppermost portion.

Motorcycle Inspection Requirements

Motorcycles should undergo and pass the Rhode Island safety inspection before June 30 of each year. New vehicles are exempt from review until they accumulate 24,000 miles or after two years from the date of purchase, whichever comes first. 

The state's official safety inspection document outlines motorcycle inspection rules, regulations, and standards. It also states the requirements for being appointed as an inspection station. 

Rhode Island’s Motorcycle Passenger Law

In Rhode Island, motorcycle passengers must wear a properly fitted helmet approved by the DOT. The motorcycle should also be equipped with a separate rear seat and footrest, as well as a proper grip or handlebar. For passengers under the age of 12, the motorcycle should have a secured backrest. They should be seated behind the operator unless a sidecar is provided.

Rhode Island’s Law on Motorcycle Lane Splitting

Lane splitting means driving between two lanes of traffic, typically done to get ahead of slower traffic. In Rhode Island, motorcyclists are required to maintain their lane of travel and are prohibited from splitting lanes. They are entitled to the full width of the lane. Motorcyclists, however, are allowed to ride side-by-side in the same lane.

Rhode Island’s Vehicular Pursuit Law

Rhode Island law allows police officers to engage in high-speed vehicular pursuit in appropriate situations. These include chasing after a driver who has committed violations endangering the safety and lives of others, such as driving under the influence of controlled substances. Police officers may terminate the pursuit if, in their judgment, the dangers of chasing the offender are greater than the need for immediate apprehension.

Eluding a law enforcement officer in a high-speed pursuit is punishable by up to one year's imprisonment, $500 to $1,000 in fines, license suspension for 90 days to six months, and motor vehicle forfeiture for the first offense. For the second and subsequent convictions, the penalties are two to five years of imprisonment at the ACI, $2,000 to $5,000 in fines, license suspension for one to five years, and motor vehicle forfeiture.

Rhode Island’s Motorcycle Insurance Requirements

Any person operating a motorcycle in Rhode Island must maintain insurance coverage and present proof of insurance when asked to do so by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The required liability limits are as follows:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury per person

  • $50,000 for bodily injury per accident

  • $25,000 for damages to property per accident

These will pay for the damages when you are found responsible for an accident resulting in property damage or injuries. You may opt to increase the limits; it will mean higher insurance premiums but prevent out-of-pocket expenses in more serious cases. You can also choose between unlimited right to sue and limited right to sue options, which apply to noneconomic losses. 

Under the unlimited right to sue option, you can claim noneconomic damages against the negligent person or company for any injury. In contrast, under the limited right to sue option, you may file a lawsuit against the at-fault party only if you sustained permanent injuries, such as loss of a fetus or a body part, significant scarring or disfigurement, and displaced fractures. However, this does not affect your claim for economic damages.

Other types of coverage can supplement the existing policy, depending on the provider. These include:

  • Uninsured motorist coverage - pays for damages if the other driver does not have insurance

  • Comprehensive coverage - pays for damage from vandalism, theft, falling objects, and weather conditions

  • Collision coverage - pays for injuries or damages, regardless of fault

  • Personal injury protection - covers the owner’s medical expenses

  • Total loss coverage - pays for replacement costs when the motorcycle is totaled

  • Accessories and equipment protection

  • Roadside assistance

If you are caught driving without insurance, you could be asked to pay hefty fines and lose your driving privileges. These penalties include a fine of $100 to $500 and a registration/license suspension of up to three months for the first offense; a fine of $500 and a registration/license suspension of six months for the second offense; and a fine of $1,000 and a registration/license suspension of up to one year for the third and subsequent offenses. It will also be considered a civil violation.

Rhode Island an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims

Rhode Island follows a fault-based insurance system, under which victims of motorcycle accidents are entitled to seek damages from the at-fault party’s insurer. Recovering compensation can be challenging because insurance companies are usually unwilling to offer an amount beyond the other driver’s policy limits. In this case, a motorcycle accident lawsuit may be filed to pay for the difference. 

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

Motorcycle accidents can drastically change the lives of their victims. They can result in life-threatening medical conditions, such as fractured bones, internal bleeding, whiplash, and traumatic brain injuries. If you are hurt in a motorcycle accident, you can sue the negligent party and seek compensation.

Rhode Island does not limit the damages a motorcycle accident victim can recover. However, there is a $100,000 cap on claims against the state or any political subdivision. The settlement amount, in general, should cover the economic and noneconomic damages suffered by the victim in a motorcycle accident. 

Economic damages are financial losses that receipts, bills, and employment contracts can validate. These include lost wages and job opportunities, medical expenses, and property damage. Noneconomic damages are intangible losses that include pain and suffering, loss of consortium and enjoyment of life, disfigurement, PTSD, and scarring. 

Calculating noneconomic damages can be difficult. It also varies from case to case, depending on the totality of circumstances, the victim's age, the type of injury incurred, and how the injury affected the victim. It is essential to hire a motorcycle accident lawyer to strengthen your case.

Punitive damages may also be awarded if the court determines that the defendant’s actions involved reckless indifference to the victim’s protected rights or if they were motivated by ill will or malice. The state does not limit punitive damages, but as a rule of thumb, they cannot be greater than 10 times the compensatory award (economic and noneconomic damages). Additionally, punitive damages are not available against government entities.

Rhode Island Is a Pure Comparative Negligence State for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits

Rhode Island follows a pure comparative negligence system, under which motorcycle accident victims can pursue compensation even if they are partially responsible for the collision. The damages will be reduced by an amount proportionate to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. For instance, if the court determines that you have suffered $100,000 in damages but also discovers that you are 20% responsible for the motorcycle accident, you will receive $80,000 in compensation. Even if you are 99% at fault, you can still obtain 1% compensation.

Furthermore, several individuals or parties can be held liable in motorcycle accidents. These include negligent motorists, bicyclists, motorcycle or helmet manufacturers, property owners, or government entities. If multiple parties are involved, the court will determine and assign the fault percentage for each liable party. 

Rhode Island’s Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents

Rhode Island’s statute of limitations for motorcycle accidents is three years. If you are injured in a motorcycle accident, you should file a lawsuit against the negligent party within three years of the date of the incident. For wrongful death claims, the deadline is within three years of the date of the victim’s death. If the victim is a minor, the clock begins when they turn 18. The statute of limitations may also be delayed if the plaintiff becomes mentally incompetent due to the accident. 

If the plaintiff fails to file a motorcycle accident claim within the deadline, they may lose their right to seek compensation against the negligent party. However, the discovery of harm rule applies if the damages are realized later. The clock then begins when the victim becomes aware of the injuries. 

Legal Resources for Rhode Island Motorcycle Accident Victims

Rhode Island Motorcycle Association

The Rhode Island Motorcycle Association (RIMA) is a nonprofit public advocacy group that fights for the rights and safety of motorcyclists throughout the state. It protects riders' interests in various areas, such as personal liberty, highway safety, law enforcement, discrimination, and health care. It also raises motorcycle awareness through education. Anyone can become a RIMA member by paying the annual membership fee of $35 for individuals and $40 for families.  

Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles

The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles is a government agency that administers driver licensing and motor vehicle registration. It provides online services such as duplicating or canceling registration, renewing a license, and checking license status. Citizens can also file a complaint through their website. 

Rhode Island Insurance Division

The Rhode Island Insurance Division protects the interests of policyholders. It monitors the activities of insurance producers, appraisers, and adjusters. It also ensures that consumers have access to a fair insurance market. Additionally, their website is available if you want to file a complaint, look up an insurance license, or check insurance rules and regulations. You may also contact them by calling (401) 462-9520 or sending an email to  

Rhode Island Driver's Manual

The Rhode Island Driver’s Manual contains information to help individuals become responsible and educated drivers. It explains the different types of licenses and permits, the application process, and the road test requirements. It also provides pointers on basic driving skills, safety rules, signs, and markings. 

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