Rhode Island Speeding Violations

In general, Rhode Island has three different types of speed limits. These are called, respectively, "absolute," "presumed," and "basic" speed limits. In order for you to put up the best defense possible if you want to challenge your speeding ticket, it is important for you to know which one you were cited with. Rhode Island also has statutes that provide for license suspension and other enhancements if the motorist has accrued a certain number of violations within a given time period. Additionally, these enhancements can vary based on the nature of the violation in question. The newly enacted “Colin Foote’s Law” is a prominent example of such an enhancement statute. In Rhode Island, license suspension may also be indefinite if the Traffic Judge makes factual findings regarding the danger of a particular motorist.

Speed Limits that are Absolute

Many people wonder how to fight a speeding ticket, especially a traffic violation for going above the absolute speed limit. An absolute speed limit is quite straight forward -- if the posted limit is 40 mph, then that is the absolute limit. If you are going 45 mph, you are violating the absolute speed limit. There are limited defenses for such a ticket, but some of them include:

  • Claim that you were speeding because of an emergency. The emergency must have made you speed in order to avoid serious injury to yourself or others. An example of a good defense would be if you were forced to speed because you had to outrun the firestorm that was raging down the road, engulfing everything in flame.

  • Challenge the determination of your speed. A traffic ticket will often have your tracked speed written down on it, and you have the right to challenge this statement. To make this defense, you must first determine what method the officer used to determine your speed (laser, pacing, sight, radar), and then either attack the method used or the officer's implementation of that method (such as challenging the officer's training with the device).

  • Challenge the officer's identification of your automobile and claim that you were mistaken with a similar car that was driving next to you at the time of the ticket. Many cars look very similar, and it could be easy for the officer to mistake your car for the one he clocked speeding after losing sight of it over a hill.

Fight a Speeding Ticket under a Presumed Speed Limit

If you have been given a ticket under a presumed speed limit, this means that the officer accused you of driving at an unsafe speed for the conditions present at the time. There are two general defenses to such a ticket. First, you can challenge the officer's claim that you were driving above the posted speed limit, just as if you were challenging an absolute speed limit violation. However, you can also claim that, even if you were driving above the posted speed limit, your driving was safe for the conditions at the time of the ticket.

Here is one example. If you were ticketed for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone and there is little chance of proving that you were not going 45, you could claim that you were driving safe given the conditions. Perhaps the traffic around you was traveling at 50 mph or above and you felt that you would be a danger on the road if you were going 35 mph and did not want to get read-ended by a speeding car.

If you decide to take such an approach to challenging your speeding ticket, you will have the burden of proving that the speed you were driving at was a safe speed given the conditions. It is generally assumed that the posted speed limit is the safest maximum speed for any given stretch of road, so you will have to overcome this presumption to be successful.

It could be nigh impossible to show that going 60 miles per hour in a 25 mph area is safe, but it could be possible to show that going 35 mph in a 25 mph is safe given certain conditions. Perhaps the road is very wide and straight, and the only reason the speed limit is 25 mph is because of pressure put on the city government by wealthy residents. In these situations, you may have a strong argument.

In order for you to build the best case possible, it is helpful to have certain pieces of evidence to present to the judge. First, you should go back to the scene of the ticket at the same time of day you got the citation and take pictures, both from the sidewalk, as well as from a driver's point of view. The more that you can show it is safe to go above the speed limit on a certain stretch of road, the better.

Next, you should be able to diagram the section of road where you were ticketed, and demonstrate any other factors that would be beneficial to your case on the diagram. For instance, if you can show that you got your ticket on an open stretch of road between two cities instead of in a busy downtown area, you have a strong chance of showing that your speed was safe given the situation. Also, if you can show that the road was heavily congested at the time of your ticket, and that all the cars around you were exceeding the posted speed limit, you can argue that you would be a danger on the road if you had to obey the absolute speed limit.

Basic Speed Limits

The general premise of a basic speed limit law is simply the reverse of a presumed speed limit, like a presumed speed limit that works in favor of police officers. Police officers can ticket you for driving at a speed under the posted speed limit if the conditions make it so that your speed is unsafe.

Often, it is possible to argue that the posted speed limit on a road is above what the safe speed limit is. Rainy, snowy or windy conditions can make driving more dangerous and could possibly reduce a presumed speed limit from 65 mph to 50 mph in the officer's mind. Police officers have discretion to ticket drivers for driving at or below a posted speed limit if the conditions make it unsafe.

However, if you have been ticketed for driving at or below the posted speed limit, you will be afforded extra protections should you decide to challenge the ticket. The biggest difference is that instead of you having to prove that you were driving at a safe speed given the conditions, the officer must instead prove that, given the conditions, the speed you were driving at was unsafe. This may be hard for the officer to do if you were not involved in an accident. After all, the legal presumption is that the posted speed limit is the safe speed to travel at.

Police often cite people who have been involved in car accidents with speeding tickets according to the basic speed limit. Their logic follows like this -- if you were involved in a car accident, there was something that must have been unsafe, and it was probably your speed. However, don't panic if you receive a traffic ticket on top of being in a car accident. The logic is flawed -- there can be a number of other reasons for the car accident, even another driver.

If the officer accuses you of violating the basic speed limit and uses the accident as proof of the "unsafeness" of your speed, you can and should challenge him on this. Ask the officer if there could have been any other factors that caused the accident. These could include:

  • An act of nature such as a gust of wind that blew over the truck next to you, or the falling tree that you had to swerve to avoid

  • The reckless or negligent driving of another person on the road

  • A road defect such as a pothole, a missing stoplight, or a stop sign that had been stolen recently.

Most Rhode Island Traffic Violations are adjudicated at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. Having knowledge about the procedural mechanisms at this Court is vital to effectively representing the client.