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The cost of getting a driver’s license in Colorado has dramatically increased in recent years and could be getting higher with newly proposed legislation. Rep. Cathy Kipp wants to roll back these costs with House Bill 1147.

If passed, Kipp’s bill would cap the price of behind-the-wheel license tests at $25 for an initial test and $50 for subsequent retests. In April 2020, Colorado’s Division of Motor Vehicles stopped providing free driver's tests, forcing prospective drivers to take the license test at third-party driving schools, which costs up to $115 and around $71 on average, depending on the company. 

Prior to the change, more than 35,000 Coloradans took their driver’s test at the DMV for free each year, accounting for around 30% of driver’s license recipients, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. 

“This has created economic barriers to getting driver’s licenses for a lot of people,” Kipp, D-Fort Collins, said. “We’ve left the 30% who do not have the economic resources.”

To cap the costs of driver’s tests, the bill would create a fee of around $4 for all driver’s permits and licenses, with the money being used to reimburse third-party driving schools that charge over the new rate limits.

HB 1147 comes as another bill introduced in the legislature would significantly increase the costs of getting a driver’s license. Senate Bill 11 would make Coloradans under the age of 18 take 30 hours of driver’s education and six hours of behind-the-wheel training to get a license. The bill would also make those over 18 but under 21 years old take a four-hour driver awareness program.

DriveSafe, the largest driving school in the state, currently charges $109 for its online 30-hour driver’s education course and $549 for its six-hour behind-the-wheel training — plus an additional $100 to take the driver’s license test with the company under a bundle package, according to DriveSafe’s website.

In direct response to SB 11, Kipp's HB 1147 would also create a free online 30-hour driver’s training course provided by the state. 

Supporters of HB 1147 called combatting cost increases "critical," saying teenagers who cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars to get a driver’s license will hurt their ability to get jobs, internships, do after school activities and encourages them to drive without a license. 

“Transportation is opportunity,” said Sarah Staron with Young Invincibles. “One in four young adults in our network in Colorado lack access to transportation. … It’s our responsibility to ensure that the ability to get a driver’s license is not determined by your income or geography.”

HB 1147 would also require the DMV to offer driver’s tests again in areas where there is not a third-party test provider within 60 miles of a DMV office, beginning in July 2025, and it would end the DMV’s current practice of charging people fees for failing their first driver’s test and having to retake it — even though the DMV does not provide either test.  

The House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee approved HB 1147 in a 9-4 vote on Tuesday, sending it to the House Finance Committee for further consideration. The bill advanced along party lines, with all Democrats voting in support of the bill and all Republicans voting against it.

None of the Republican opponents commented on their “no” votes, but some did raise concerns during the committee about people in rural areas not being able to access driver’s tests since the DMV stopped providing them. 

Rep. Ty Winter, R-Trinidad, asked Mark Ferrandino with the Department of Revenue if the DMV would consider providing driver’s tests in rural and frontier counties on its own — as the bill would force the DMV to do if it passes. Ferrandino said they have “no plans” to do so, saying those counties only represent 1% to 2% of tests.

The Department of Revenue and multiple private driving schools opposed the bill, saying it would increase work for the DMV and hurt profits of the driving schools, in addition to raising fees for all drivers. 

“A state-owned business will directly compete with private businesses,” said Kevin Hughes, owner of American Driving Academy. “On the note of pricing, it is unfathomable to assume that the Department of Revenue can determine prices needed to operate a high-quality testing and training facility.”

Proponents of the bill rejected these concerns, pointing out that driving schools were successful prior to 2020 when Colorado provided free driver’s tests. Kipp also argued that the companies benefit from an expensive system that hurts low-income families’ access to driver’s licenses.

Colorado residents have reported spending hundreds of dollars and months of their time trying to get a driver’s license — and that’s without the significant additional costs and training requirements that could come with SB 11, which has passed two committees so far. 

“One of my own colleagues told me that she had to spend $750 on behalf of her child to take the driver’s training and to take the driver’s testing,” Kipp said. “I’m sure that’s great for the driving companies, but how many people can afford that?”

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