Colorado teens seeking driver’s license need more training in proposed bill

As new data show Colorado traffic deaths hit a 41-year high in 2022, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require teenagers to take a 30-hour driver’s education course and get hands-on experience with an instructor before they could be issued a driver’s license.

The bill — SB 23-011 — would position Colorado’s training requirements closer to states like California, Texas and New Hampshire. The 30 hours of coursework could include online learning and would have to be provided by an approved program. The bill would also require six hours of driving with an instructor or, for those in rural areas, 12 hours with a parent or guardian. Those training requirements would build upon existing qualifications for minors looking for a license, which include holding a permit for 12 months and completing 50 hours of supervised driving.

For those between the ages of 18 and 21, the bill would require a four-hour “driver awareness course.” It would also standardize requirements for minors, only some of whom currently have to complete coursework.

The intent, supporters say, is to make Colorado’s roads safer. Hours before the bill cleared an initial Senate hearing Monday, the state Department of Transportation released new preliminary data showing that 745 people died in traffic incidents in 2022, the most since 1981 and a 57% increase from a decade ago. Young driver fatalities — those between the ages of 15 and 20 — have steadily increased since 2019, the data show, from 24 deaths to 35.

“Where this comes from is that our roadways are becoming more and more dangerous every single year,” said Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. ” … So making sure that we are setting up our children to be able to get behind the wheel of something that can take someone’s life in the best way possible that sets them up for success is really important.”

Representatives from AAA Colorado and Bicycle Colorado testified in favor of the bill Monday, as did a driving instructor. Skyler McKinley, the public affairs director for AAA, said increasing training requirements was a way to improve road safety without tightening penalties or increasing criminal enforcement.

The bill would also give families a refundable tax credit — up to $1,000 — to pay for the cost of newly required drivers ed. But it comes as at least one other lawmaker has raised concerns about the current costs for getting a license.

Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Fort Collins Democrat, said that shortly after the pandemic started three years ago, the state Division of Motor Vehicles stopped offering in-person driving tests. That’s still true, and people looking to get approved for a license must now go to third-party testing companies that charge, on average, roughly $71 per exam, she said.

“I understand we want people to be good drivers,” Kipp told the Denver Post, “but if you have to take a driving course in order to get a license, are we then putting additional financial barriers in front of young people, particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Kipp plans to introduce a bill of her own that would help subsidize these private tests, via additional fees — somewhere between $2 and $8, she said — on anyone getting or renewing their license. The state would then stand up a fund and help offset the cost of third-party exams.

Winter said she was concerned about affordability, too — hence the tax credit — and she pointed to some online courses that are under $40.

The goal, she said, is to stem the tide of traffic deaths.

“We’ve seen more deaths on the road, year after year,” Winter said. “What are we doing to make our roads safer?”

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