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Attention New Colorado Residents! Here Are Some Colorado Road Laws that You May Not Know

July 13, 2023

Welcome to Colorado Sign

Colorado is a hot destination! Not only for tourists all year long, but for new residents looking to enjoy our healthy lifestyle, consistent sunshine, glorious mountains, and bustling economy. If you are among Colorado’s newest residents, welcome to you!

You are probably acclimating yourself to all kinds of unique Colorado traditions and habits. As part of that, you should learn our rules of the road. Colorado has some laws that outsiders might find odd or confusing.

So, I thought I’d write a primer on some of the fundamental Colorado road laws that you might not know.

Colorado’s Roads are Dangerous

Denver highway at night

First, allow me to share some bad news. The roads in Colorado can be dangerous. There were 745 deaths on the roads in 2022, making it the deadliest since 1981. Anecdotally, those of us who have lived here a long time attribute this tragic truth to…well…an influx of people, which means more cars on the road.

People have become frustrated drivers, running red lights more often than they used to, speeding through neighborhoods, and cutting pedestrians and bikers off to make a turn.

But that’s just my observation from my personal injury office at 6th and Ogden. Experts and data crunchers have stats to prove that there are additional causes contributing to these deadly statistics. They have found:

  • Impaired driving deaths increased to 278 last year, up 6% from 2021 and up 60% since 2019.
  • Seat belt use in Colorado remains stagnant at 87%, lagging behind the national average of 90%. The majority of those killed in crashes were unbuckled.
  • Of the people killed in 2022, 36% were pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists. Last year saw 147 motorcyclists and 109 pedestrians killed, the most since 1975.

Major efforts are underway to reverse these trends. For example, Denver’s Vision Zero program aims to reduce traffic deaths to zero, though it is proving to be a difficult goal to achieve. The city also recently passed a law reducing neighborhood speed limits from 25 mph to 20 mph.

Now that you know some of the important challenges that Colorado drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists face, the following Colorado road laws will likely make more sense.

Bike Lanes in Colorado

As you embark on your journey through the beautiful neighborhoods of Colorado, you’ll notice that some roads have designated bike lanes. These lanes are reserved for cyclists, offering them a safe space to pedal along without worrying about sharing the road with cars. It’s essential to respect these lanes and avoid parking or driving in them to prevent accidents and to create a harmonious coexistence for all road users.

Colorado Crosswalks

Speaking of neighborhoods, Colorado has a law that requires motorists to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. The colorful streets of Denver, Boulder, and other cities are adorned with numerous crosswalks, providing pedestrians with a safe passage. Remember, as a driver, it is your responsibility to stop and yield to pedestrians patiently, allowing them to cross safely. A little courtesy goes a long way in fostering a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Seat Belt Laws in Colorado

Venturing beyond the neighborhoods, you’ll encounter the bustling thoroughfares and highways that connect the state. In Colorado, it is mandatory for all passengers to wear seat belts while traveling in a vehicle. Whether you’re driving on the picturesque Highway 285 or cruising along the fast-paced I-70, fastening your seat belt is not just a legal requirement, but a crucial step in safeguarding your life.

Slow Down, Move Over Law in Colorado

In August 2023, Colorado will join nine other states that enforce the so-called, “Slow Down, Move Over” law. Simply put, if you see a vehicle on the side of the road, you must slow down and move over. This has always been the courteous thing to do, but as of August, it will be the law.

Don’t Text and Drive in Colorado

Texting and driving in Colorado is illegal

One law that holds particular significance in Colorado is the prohibition of texting while driving. The allure of the stunning views might tempt you to take a quick snapshot or respond to a message, but it is vital to resist this temptation. Distracted driving contributes to a significant number of accidents on Colorado’s roads. By focusing solely on the task at hand and keeping your eyes on the road, you can help reduce the number of accidents and ensure everyone’s safety.

Here are the specific laws around cell phone use while driving in Colorado:

Adult drivers.  Colorado law permits regular cell phone use for voice calls.  Headphones may be worn in one ear for this purpose.  However, adult drivers are prohibited from manual data entry and transmission on a cell phone (i.e., to send a text message or browse the internet) while behind the wheel.

Minor drivers.  Any driver under 18 years of age is prohibited from using a cell phone while driving.  The prohibition includes phone calls, text messaging, or similar forms of manual data entry and transmission.

Exceptions.  Exceptions to the law are provided under specified circumstances.  Drivers, regardless of age, may use a wireless device for phone calls or sending or receiving text messages either to contact a public safety entity or during an emergency.  An emergency is defined as any situation in which the following may occur:

  • a person has reason to fear for his or her life or safety, or believes that a criminal act may be perpetrated against him or her or against another person;
  • reporting of a fire, serious traffic accident, serious road hazard, or a medical or hazardous materials emergency; or
  • reporting of a person who is driving in a reckless, careless, or unsafe manner.

Be Cautious on Colorado’s Narrow Mountain Roadways

Many of the backroads in our mountains are narrow, allowing only one car to pass. Therefore, we have laws directing how drivers handle the awkward situation when two cars end up facing each other on these skinny roads.

When this happens, the vehicle going downhill must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle going uphill. (In some very steep situations, the car going uphill may not be able to regain its momentum if it is forced to stop! Let that car keep climbing and then head on down the hill yourself.)

Unpredictable Colorado Weather Requires Vigilance

Colorado weather is extremely unpredictable, especially the higher in elevation that you travel. Storms can move in quickly, turning a beautiful, sun-kissed day into a roiling, wet, cold tempest.

If you’re not used to our state’s mountain passes and roadside cliffs, it’s extremely important that you check the weather before heading into the hills.

If you get nervous or feel vulnerable during changing weather conditions, simply pull over for a while and calm down. As the saying goes, “Don’t like the weather in Colorado? Wait 15 minutes.”

Colorado’s roads are a gateway to unforgettable experiences, but it is our collective responsibility to make sure they remain a safe haven for all who traverse them.


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