All laws mentioned below were current as of August 2012 and may be subject to change. Much of this information is drawn from the League of American Bicyclists listing of state bike laws, the rest is straight from Rhode Island General Law. The League also has a page on basic Rules of the Road.
No Parking in a Bike Lane
No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with law or the directions of a police officer or traffic control device, in any of the following places:
(16) On any bicycle lane, trail or path.
(c) Violations of this section are subject to fines enumerated in § 31-41.1-4. [which says first offenses can be dismissed but you still have to pay $60. We’d like more clarity if you want to look into it and let us know.]
Safe Passing Laws
Rhode Island requires that the driver of a motor vehicle must pass a bicyclist by driving to the left of the bicycle at a safe distance, that is sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic, and returning to the lane of travel once the motor vehicle is safely clear of the overtaken bicycle. However, a driver of a motor vehicle need not follow that requirement when:
- Driving in a lane that is separate from and adjacent to a designated bicycle lane;
- Driving at a speed not greater than fifteen miles per hour; or
- When the driver is passing a bicyclist’s right side and the person operating the bicycle is turning left.
The driver of a motor vehicle may drive to the left of the center of a roadway to pass a person operating a bicycle proceeding in the same direction only if the roadway to the left of the center is unobstructed for a sufficient distance to permit the driver to pass the person operating the bicycle safely and avoid interference with oncoming traffic.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §31-15-18
Rhode Island requires that any person under the age of 15 riding a bicycle, as an operator or passenger, must wear a protective bicycle helmet.
However, in no event shall failure to wear a helmet be considered as contributory or comparative negligence, nor shall the failure to wear a helmet be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §31-19-2.1
Share the Road license plates
Rhode Island does not offer Share the Road license plates at this time.
Vulnerable Road User Laws
Rhode Island does not have any vulnerable road user laws at this time. There are currently no national standards for laws protecting vulnerable road users, but the League of American Bicyclists has drafted a Model Vulnerable Road User statute, which you can find here.
Distracted Driving Laws
Rhode Island currently has the following laws aimed at distracted driving, subject to limited exceptions:
- No person shall use a wireless handset to compose, read or send text messages while operating a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the state of Rhode Island;
- The use of a cell phone by a minor while said minor, any person less than 18 years of age, is operating a motor vehicle shall be prohibited, except in the case of an emergency;
- The use of a cell phone by a school bus driver shall be prohibited, while the bus is transporting children except in the case of an emergency; and
- A person shall not drive a bicycle or motor vehicle upon any highway while wearing earphones or a headset.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §§31-22-30; 31-22-11.8; 31-22-11.9; 31-23-51
Where to Ride
Rhode Island requires that every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction except where official traffic control devices (signs or pavement markings) specifically direct bicyclists to do otherwise.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §31-19-6
Rhode Island provides that a person may ride any vehicle operated by human power upon and along a sidewalk or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk, unless prohibited by official traffic-control devices (signs). When riding on a sidewalk a person has all the rights and all the duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §§31-19-11; 31-19-12
Mandatory Use of Separated Facilities
Rhode Island does not require that bicyclists use any lane or path other than a normal vehicular traffic lane.
Bicycling Under the Influence
In Rhode Island, bicycles are defined as vehicles. Rhode Island’s law prohibiting driving while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances is written so that it applies to all vehicles and therefore applies to bicyclists. Bicycles should not be operated while intoxicated and operating a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances may result in severe punishments.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §§31-1-3; 31-27-2
“Idaho Stop” and Vehicle Detection Errors
Rhode Island does not provide any modifications to the requirement to come to a complete stop when directed to stop by traffic control devices and does not authorize bicyclists to disobey traffic lights that fail to detect bicyclists.
Authorization for Local Regulation of bicycles
Rhode Island provides that its state traffic laws shall not be deemed to prevent local authorities, with respect to streets and highways under their jurisdiction and within the reasonable exercise of the police power, from regulating the operation of bicycles and requiring the registration and licensing of bicycles, including the requirement of a registration fee.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §31-12-12
Rhode Island requires that no person open the door of a motor vehicle on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, available to moving traffic, unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including pedestrians and bicycles on sidewalks, shoulders, or bicycle lanes. In addition, no person shall leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic, including pedestrians and bicycles on sidewalks, shoulders or bicycle lanes, for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §31-21-14
Treatment as a Vehicle
In Rhode Island bicycles are vehicles according to the statute that defines vehicles and a person riding a bicycle has all of the rights and duties of a driver of a vehicle under Chapters 12 through 27 of Title 31 of the Rhode Island Statutes, except for special regulations specific to bicycles and those provisions that by their nature can have no application.
Source: R.I. Gen. Laws §§31-1-3(ee); 31-19-3
Source of Laws
The laws regulating the operation of bicycles in the state of Rhode Island are generally found in Title 31 of the Rhode Island General Statutes (R.I. Gen. Laws), available here: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/.
The following resources may be useful:
- Direct link to Chapter 31-19 of the Rhode Island General Statutes: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE31/31-19/INDEX.HTM
- Rhode Island Department of Transportation Bike Information, including Bike Lane Laws: http://www.dot.ri.gov/community/bikeri/index.php