Rhode Island Speeding Laws

Learn about Rhode Island's "basic speed law" and speed limits and the consequences of a speeding violation.

In addition to presumed speed limits (see below), Rhode Island's "basic speed law" provides that no person shall drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. Rhode Island has another law that requires drivers to exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian or another vehicle.

(31 R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § § 31-14-1, 31-14-3, 31-18-8 (2017).)

Penalty for Exceeding the Speed Limit

A first-time speeding violator may be:

  • fined $50, and
  • the violator’s license may be suspended not more than one year.

Penalty for Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is defined as driving “recklessly so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered.” A first offense carries up to a year in jail and/or a maximum $500 in fines. The convicted motorist also faces the possibility of license suspension of up to a year. (31 R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § § 31-11-6, 31-27-13, 31-27-4 (2017).)

(Read more about Rhode Island's reckless driving laws and penalties.)

Speed Limits

Rhode Island's presumed speed limits are:

  • 50 miles per hour during the daytime outside a business or residential district
  • 45 miles per hour during the nighttime outside a business or residential district
  • 25 miles per hour in a business or residential district, and
  • 20 miles per hour in a school zone.

Rhode Island Speeding Laws

Rhode Island is one of the minority of states that use a “prima facie” or “presumed” speed limit law. In states that use this system, it’s legal to drive over the posted limit as long as you are driving safely. For example, if you are driving 50 miles per hour in a 40-mile-per-hour zone, you are “presumed” to be speeding. But if it is 6 a.m. on a clear, dry morning, with no other cars on a wide, straight road, and you can convince the judge that you were driving safely given those conditions, you should be acquitted. That’s because you present facts that “rebut the presumption” that by going over the limit you were driving at an unsafe speed.

In states such as Rhode Island, if you’re accused of violating a “presumed” speed limit, you may be able to make two possible defenses:

  • claim you weren’t exceeding the posted speed limit, or
  • claim that, even if you were exceeding the posted limit, you were driving safely given the specific road, weather, and traffic conditions at the time.

Occasionally an officer will incorrectly measure your speed. But even when that happens, it can be hard to convince a judge to accept your version of the story. In short, if you were ticketed in a “presumed” speed area, it is most sensible to rely on the argument that you may have been driving slightly over the posted speed limit, but it was safe to do so considering all the highway conditions at the time. For example, if you know you were driving 33 to 35 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone, and the officer can probably prove it, you should concentrate your defense on showing that you were driving at a reasonable speed, considering the conditions at the time you were stopped.

Note that in Rhode Island you can be ticketed for driving at an unsafe speed, even if that speed does not violate the posted limit—for example, driving exactly at the maximum posted limit on the freeway amidst slower and heavy traffic, in a dense fog, or in a driving rainstorm or blizzard.

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