Teenagers in Colorado could soon be required to complete up to 36 hours of driver’s education to be eligible for a driver’s license, if a new bill introduced to the state legislature passes.
Senate Bill 11, introduced on Tuesday, would require Coloradans under the age of 18 to take a 30-hour driver’s education course and receive at least six hours of behind-the-wheel driving training from an instructor before being issued a driver’s license. The bill would also require those over 18 but under 21 years old to complete a four-hour driver awareness program to get a driver’s license.
The bill’s sponsor Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, said it is intended to better prepare young Coloradans to be safe drivers.
"We saw an unprecedented, record-breaking of amount deaths last year on our roads. We need to make sure that people who are driving are prepared and ready and able,” Winter said. “One of the most important responsibilities you can take as a young person is getting behind the wheel of something that can take someone's life.”
In 2022, at least 694 people died in crashes on Colorado roads — up from 650 to date in 2021, 580 in 2020 and an average of 593 annually since 2017, according to a December report from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Fatalities among drivers aged 15 to 20 are also up, from 20 in 2019 to 31 in 2022, the report found.
If passed by the legislature, the bill would add to the recently rising costs of getting a driver’s license in Colorado. In April 2020, Colorado’s Department of Motor Vehicles stopped providing free driver's tests, forcing prospective drivers to now take the license test at third-party driving schools, which costs up to $115 depending on the company.
Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins, said she is “concerned” about SB11 because of the disproportionate impact it would have on low-income families who already struggle to pay for driver’s license tests and cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars on driver’s education programs.
“We're not here to try to create barriers for poor people to get driver's licenses, because that only drives them further into the cycle of poverty,” Kipp said. “That's the issue. We need to make sure that, whatever we do, we're not putting additional barriers that will be felt differently by different economic subgroups.”
The bill would create a refundable income tax credit for purchasing driver’s education and training, offering up to $1,000 per student. However, drivers would still need to have hundreds of dollars to pay for the courses upfront.
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.
Prices could also increase if driver’s education courses become mandated, as they did when the DMV stopped providing driver’s tests in 2020. DriveSafe raised its individual test fee from $79 in 2019 to $115 today. Western Slope Driving Institute raised its driving test price from $55 in 2018 to $85 today, after previously raising costs by only $5 from 2015 to 2018. Prices at American Driving Academy rose from between $55 and $50 in 2019 to between $79 and $69 now, after raising fees by only $10 since 2014.
Kipp said she is planning to introduce her own bill later this month which would subsidize the costs of driver’s tests, making them around $25 for the initial test and $50 for retakes. Kipp’s bill would be paid for by adding a fee on all driver’s licenses and driver’s license renewals.
“My bill is going to try and take barriers away from people getting driver's licenses,” Kipp said. “What we want to do is try and strike a better balance and make it more reasonable. I think when my kids took it back in 2014, it was around $25.”
Winter said she is very concerned about the price of the driver’s education courses that her bill would require, saying lawmakers are “working hard to make it more affordable” by offering scholarships and identifying online driver’s education courses that start as low as $40 — not including the mandated six hours of behind-the-wheel training.
The bill would also allow minors who live in rural areas to receive 12 hours of behind-the-wheel training from a parent or guardian instead of six hours from a certified training instructor. And it would prohibit people convicted of certain violent or sexual crimes from providing behind-the-wheel training to minors.
But ultimately, the intention of the bill is for fewer teenagers to be on the roads without proper training, Winter said.
Currently, Coloradans under the age of 18 are eligible to test for a driver’s license after holding a learner’s permit for 12 months and completing 50 hours of supervised driving, including 10 hours of night driving. State law only requires those between 15 and 16 years old to complete driver’s education courses in order to get a learner’s permit.
“Why wouldn’t you wait until you're 16 and not have to do driver's training — which we know reduces deaths and increases how well you can drive?” Winter said. “We're bringing that all into parity.”
SB11 is scheduled to face its first vote in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on Monday, Jan. 23.