Rhode Island Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws

Here’s the State of Rhode Island traffic and injury liability laws you need. Protect your right to compensation for injuries caused by a negligent driver.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Rhode Island, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and personal injury claim.

You’re entitled to seek compensation from a negligent motorist whether you were walking, riding, or driving another vehicle when the collision occurred.

In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. For your convenience, we’ve summarized each law and provided a link to the full text of each State of Rhode Island statute.

Pedestrian Traffic Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

RI Statutes § 31-18-3

Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways

No pedestrian is permitted to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute a hazard.

RI Statutes § 31-18-3

Pedestrian Control Signals

Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words Walk or Wait or Don’t Walk are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:

  1. Walk. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
  2. Wait or Don’t Walk. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island while the Don’t Walk or Wait signal is showing.

RI Statutes §  31-13-8

Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks

Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.

RI Statutes § 31-18-5

Pedestrians on Roadway

Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway.

RI Statutes § 31-18-10

Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks

The driver of a vehicle must yield the right of way to any pedestrian on a sidewalk.

RI Statutes § 31-18-18

Drivers to Exercise Due Care

The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any obviously confused, intoxicated, or incapacitated person.

RI Statutes § 31-18-8

Rhode Island Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.

RI Statutes § 31-13-4

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When passing another driver in the same direction
  • When there is an obstruction in the right lane
  • Upon a roadway with three marked lanes of traffic
  • Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic

RI Statutes § 31-15-1

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.

RI Statutes § 31-15-4

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within one hundred feet of oncoming traffic.

RI Statutes § 31-15-6

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:

  • When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway. When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
  • On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.

RI Statute § 31-15-5

Following Too Closely

A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway. A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.

RI Statutes § 31-15-12

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

Drivers must not drive while using a mobile electronic device to read, write, or send a text message.

RI Statutes § 31-22-30

Drivers and Intersections

When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.

RI Statutes § 31-17-1

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.

RI Statutes § tion 31-17-2

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other vehicles and pedestrians on the roadway to be crossed.

RI Statutes § 31-17-5

Bicycling Laws

Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.

RI Statutes § 31-19-3

Motorcycling Laws

Motorcycles and Headlights

Every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have at least one and not more than two lighted headlights.

RI Statutes § 31-24-5

Driving Offenses and Accident Rules

Reckless Driving

Any person who operates a motor vehicle in a way that endangers the lives or safety of the public, or who attempts to elude or flee from a traffic officer or police vehicle, is guilty of reckless driving.

RI Statutes § 31-27-4

Alcohol and Minors

A driver who is at least 18 years of age but less than 21 years of age must not drive upon any roadway if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.02% or higher.

RI Statutes § 31-27-2.7

Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death or property damage must, upon request, give their name, address, and vehicle registration number, and exhibit their driver’s license to any person involved in the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.

RI Statutes § 31-26-3

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death must, upon request, give their name, address, and vehicle registration number, and exhibit their driver’s license to any person involved in the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.

RI Statutes § 31-26-1

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting in property damage must, upon request, give their name, address, and vehicle registration number, and exhibit their driver’s license to any person involved in the accident.

RI Statutes § 31-26-2

Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property

A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.

Once located, the driver who caused the accident must give their name and address, as well as the name and address of the vehicle’s owner.

If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving their name and address, as well as the vehicle owner’s, and a description of the circumstances leading to the accident.

In addition, the driver must give notice of the accident to a nearby office of local or state police.

RI Statutes § 31-26-4

Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or damage rendering a motorized vehicle inoperable must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office.

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or more than $1,000 of property damage must, within twenty-one (21) days after the accident, forward a written report of the accident to the division of motor vehicles, on forms provided by the division of motor vehicles.

Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments

Every law enforcement officer who investigates a motor vehicle accident resulting in injury, death, or more than $1,000 of property damage must submit all investigated and reportable accident reports to the department of transportation electronically with 14 days of the completing their investigation.

RI Statutes §  31-26-9

Accident Report Forms

The division of motor vehicles must prepare and upon request supply to police departments and other suitable agencies or individuals, forms for accident reports. The written reports must call for detailed information about the cause of the accident, conditions then existing, and the persons and vehicle involved.

RI Statutes §  31-26-10

Open Alcohol Container Law

Drivers must not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway with any unsealed alcoholic beverage container within the passenger section of the vehicle.

Passengers of a hired vehicle can possess an opened container.

RI Statutes § 31-22-21.1

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In Rhode Island, a driver is guilty of the offense of Driving Under the Influence of Liquor if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.

RI Statutes § 31-27-2

Ignition Interlock Device

A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device.

The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.

An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device.

If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge.

At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.

RI Statutes § 31-27-2.8

Rhode Island Injury Liability Laws

Rhode Island Dram Shop Law

Rhode Island has a Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.

A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.

Under Rhode Island law, a person who knowingly serves liquor to a minor or a visibly intoxicated person is liable for damages caused by the intoxicated person.

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

In the State of Rhode Island, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • At least $25,000 per person
  • At least $50,000 for two or more people
  • $25,000 per occurrence for property damage

Pure Comparative Negligence

In Rhode Island, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives. The amount they contributed to the accident is the amount by which their compensation is reduced.

RI Statutes § 9-20-4

Example of Pure Comparative Negligence

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.

Rhode Island’s Fault-based Car Insurance

In Rhode Island, the law requires car owners to purchase liability insurance. In the event of a car accident, a victim can seek compensation for their injuries or property damages by filing a claim with their own insurance company, filing a claim with the insurance company of the at-fault driver, or filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

For more information, see the Rhode Island Division of Business Regulation’s Auto Insurance guide.

Statute of Limitations

Rhode Island has a three (3) year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a lawsuit within the three (3) year period following the accident. Otherwise, the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.

RI Statutes § 9-1-14

Small Claims Courts

In Rhode Island, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $5,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.

RI Statutes § 8-8-3

Rhode Island Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity

In Rhode Island, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees.

The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties. If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.

RI Statutes § 9-31-1v

Example: Government Worker Causes Car Accident 

If Melissa, an engineer with the Providence Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Providence would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused by her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Providence can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.

Additional Rhode Island Resources