Bike Laws in Rhode Island

Rhode Island FlagAre you looking at learning more about the bike laws in Rhode Island? Rhode Island has nothing too terribly unique compared to other states, though it is one of the few states which requires the wearing of helmets for riders under a certain age (in this case, fifteen).

Rhode Island is also a great place to poke around in general so it’s a fun place to ride. What should you know about the bike laws in Rhode Island?

Bikes and Vehicles

First, it’s important to note that bikes are considered vehicles under Rhode Island law. This means that riders are subject to most of the same regulations and rights as drivers, except those that wouldn’t make sense for cyclists. This also means that riders are subject to things like intoxicated riding laws and where they are allowed to ride.

When cycling it Rhode Island, bikes are to stay as far to the right as possible and watch not to impede traffic. Rhode Island does not seem to make provisions for things like debris on the road or unsafe conditions, so that falls on cyclists to beware and juggle both the traffic around them and the road conditions.

It is strongly recommended that riders shift to the traffic lane to prevent things like being cut off and to avoid debris, but it is not explicitly stated in the law.

Rhode Island law does allow riders on sidewalks unless specifically prohibited by traffic devices. When riding on sidewalks, cyclists are treated as pedestrians. (R.I. Gen. Laws ยงยง31-19-11; 31-19-12).

Cyclists do not have the use of the Idaho Stop law, which means that cyclists must obey traffic lights even when they go ‘stale’ from not picking up the cyclist. Bikes are allowed to ride two abreast on the road (but no more) and cannot be towed by cars while in motion.

Finally, even when bike paths and lanes are provided, cyclists are not required to use them, though it’s not a bad idea to, especially since there is no provision for riders to move from the far right when necessary. (At least the bike lanes will be largely kept up). The other reason to use them is the fact that it’s prohibited for cars or other vehicles to be stopped, stood, or parked in a bicycle lane, trail or path unless directed to by a police officer or traffic control device or to avoid conflict with other traffic. This is a bit unique among other states as they don’t tend to spell this out.

What’s a little problematic about the relationship between bikes and cars is that even though bikes are treated as vehicles, they lose out in a couple of areas. The big one is safe passing laws. Yes, a car has to pass at a safe distance; however, they only have to do it if doing so won’t cause obstruction with other traffic.

In other words, Other cars have priority over the cyclist, making it imperative for riders to keep their wits about them while they ride.

All in all, it’s critically important that riders keep an eye on their surroundings while riding on the roads because there are too many instances where cars and bikes can interfere with each other and cyclists rarely come away the winner in that fight. The onus for the following is actually on the cyclist:

  • Keeping at least three feet away from parked cars to prevent dooring
  • Staying in a straight line as much as possible
  • Stay in the traffic queue while waiting in stop lights

Like anywhere else, it’s also important for cyclists to properly signal their intention to stop or turn to other drivers and cyclists.

Safety Equipment while Riding

Rhode Island is one of the few states in the country which requires the wearing of helmets while riding. In this case, riders under the age of fifteen, either as operators or passengers, must wear a helmet.

But failing to wear a helmet isn’t considered negligence or admissible as evidence in a civil action, so it’s mostly for your physical protection. That’s important too!

Bikes must be equipped with the following:

  • A front lamp that can emit white light from a distance of five hundred feet minimum
  • An approved red reflector that is visible from at least six hundred feet
  • Pedal reflectors that are visible from at least two hundred feet
  • A minimum of twenty square inches of white reflective material on the wheels or tires and on each side of the bike
  • Brakes that can stop the bike within twenty-five feet
  • Bikes cannot be equipped with a siren

It’s important to keep track of local ordinances too as some of them may have additional safety and riding laws. For example, on a state level, sidewalk riding is fine, but in Newport, it is illegal to ride on sidewalks unless you are under thirteen years of age.

Electric Bikes

Rhode Island is mostly pretty quiet on the subject of electric bikes. Electric bikes are defined as bikes with a motor that produces no more than 2 brake horsepower and a maximum speed of twenty-five miles per hours. E-bike operation does require a valid driver’s license to be ridden on public roads and the rider has to be at least sixteen years old.

Because of the age requirement, helmets are not legally required to be worn and the bikes can be ridden anywhere traditional bikes are ridden (assuming you have your license!)

While Rhode Island is different from other states (and safer) in that it has more safety equipment requirements and laws around the wearing of helmets, in other ways it’s less safe to ride in because of the priority given to cars (implicit, but still). This means that it’s extremely important for cyclists to pay close attention to their surroundings to prevent dangerous accidents.

All in all, while it’s fun to ride around the island, it’s also a good idea to ensure that you are ready with a sharp eye. Have fun and stay safe out there!

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