57 RI Bar J., No. 2, Pg. 19. Local Traffic Control Ordinances vs. State Traffic Control Statutes.

AuthorJohn R. Grasso, Esq.

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 57.

57 RI Bar J., No. 2, Pg. 19.

Local Traffic Control Ordinances vs. State Traffic Control Statutes

Rhode Island Bar JournalSeptember/October 2008 Volume 57, No. 2, Pg. 19 Local Traffic Control Ordinances vs. State Traffic Control StatutesJohn R. Grasso, Esq.Practices from the Law Office of John R. Grasso, Inc. in Providence.

Are the local police precluded from exercising their authority to enforce state traffic laws when a local ordinance conflicts with the state statute at issue?

May a municipal court find a motorist not liable for violating a State traffic statute merely because that city or town's local ordinance regulating the same conduct conflicts with the state statute?

For example, the Cranston Police issued a motorist a summons for failing to obey a traffic control device, specifically a stop sign, located at a certain intersection in the City of Cranston. The summons arose from a motor vehicle collision between the motorist cited and an otherwise innocent motorist who happened to be traveling through the same intersection at the same time that the cited motorist allegedly ran the stop sign. The police cited the motorist with violating § 31-13-4, Obedience to devices, (fn1) and directed her to answer the violation at the City of Cranston's Municipal Court. (fn2)

A hearing on the violation was conducted by the municipal court, and the undisputed facts were that the cited motorist did, in fact, fail to stop at the posted stop sign before colliding with the other motorist. At the conclusion of the hearing, the municipal court ruled that the stop sign posted at the intersection was unenforceable under R.I. Gen. Laws § 31-13-4 because the subject stop sign was not an official traffic control device. In its decision, the hearing court held that because the specific intersection where the accident occurred is not included as an enumerated stop intersection in the section of the Cranston City Code that enumerates official stop intersections within the City, the police cannot enforce § 31-13-4 of the Rhode Island General Laws at that intersection.

The first issue is where an appeal from this decision would be taken, and who has standing to take it. Clearly, the City of Cranston would be the appellant and the cited motorist would be the appellee. The otherwise innocent motorist who was the victim of the violation was a witness, not a...

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