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What are Colorado’s Laws for Teen Drivers?

January 31, 2023
Colorado Safety Tips

teen driver learns Colorado laws for driving under 21

There are newly-minted teenage drivers on Colorado’s roads every day. And that is sort of terrifying. Back when I learned to drive, I was relatively safe on New Jersey’s empty back roads. Today’s Colorado teenagers learn on some of the most intimidating roads I’ve ever seen!

Imagine facing I-25 at rush hour as a new driver. Or Colorado Boulevard in Denver any time of day. Or Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs. These are no-joke roads for seasoned drivers. Similarly, laws around teenage drivers have changed a lot since my youth, which is probably a blessing.

In this article, I’m going to outline the path that teenagers in Colorado must take to become full-fledged legal drivers. I’m also going to include some suggestions for additional steps that parents might want to consider to ensure their teen is fully road-ready. Finally, I’m attaching a downloadable PDF of a Teen Driver Contract that parents may use when discussing the privilege of driving with their teen, and consequences for infractions.

How Does a Colorado Teen Get Their Driver’s License?

Colorado requires that teenagers have a driving permit for 12 months before applying for a license, so you need to start the process at the age of 15 if you expect to be driving solo on your 16th birthday.

Colorado Driver’s Permit

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that you are starting this process when your teen turns 15, giving you a full year to complete all of the requirements, which include:

  • Complete a driver’s education course: There are many private companies that offer teen driving courses in Colorado. I have personal experience with both DriveSafe and MasterDrive, and they were both very good. If starting as a 15-year-old, the first step is a 30-hour driver’s ed course, usually offered throughout the year at multiple locations across the city.
  • Apply for a permit: Once the 30-hour course is complete, your teen can apply for a permit. Visit this site for all of the details. (Be prepared for quite a process. It’s like applying for a passport!)
  • Log 50 hours of driving time: Teens must complete these hours with an authorized, licensed parent, legal guardian or alternate permit supervisor. Additionally, 10 of the hours must be nighttime driving. Six of these hours must be with a certified driving school. You must keep a log of your hours, which you will show to the DMV when applying for your license.
  • Pass the driving test: Usually, the company you select for certified driver’s training will offer the state’s written and driving tests so that you don’t have to do these at the DMV.

Attaining a Colorado Driver’s License

After 12 months, 30 hours of drivers ed course work, 50 hours of driving time (including 6 hours with a certified instructor), your teen may apply for a driver’s license! Here are the items you need to bring to your appointment:

Rules for Colorado Drivers Under 18 Years Old

Here are the laws as stated on the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicle Website:

  • Driving is not permitted between midnight and 5 a.m. during the first year you have your license, unless you are:
    • Accompanied by parent or legal guardian
    • Driving to/from school or school-authorized activity and the school does not provide transportation (signed statement from school is required)
    • Driving to/from work (signed statement from employer is required)
    • Involved in a medical emergency
    • An emancipated minor
  • The first six months you have your license, only passengers 21 years old and older may ride with you
  • The second six months you have your license, one passenger under 21 years old may ride with you
  • After you have held your license for one year or turn 18 years old, you may have more than one passenger under 21 years old
  • Your siblings may ride with you at any time
  • If you are involved in a medical emergency, you may carry passengers under 21 years old at any time
  • Texting or talking on a cell phone while driving is against the law for drivers under 18 years old, however, you may place an emergency call to the police
  • You and all passengers must wear seat belts at all times
  • Even a trace of alcohol is punishable by law. You could lose your driver license if you drink under the legal age limit – even if you aren’t driving

Of Special Note: From One Parent of a Teen to Another

As a parent who has been through this, I can tell you that the hardest rules to enforce are the ones about the number of other teens that can be in your teen’s car. There is intense pressure from other teens (and, sadly, from some parents who are looking for rides for their non-drivers) to pack a teen’s car with other teens.

I cannot stress enough that this is a bad idea. First of all, the driver could lose his/her license if pulled over by a cop. Second, and more important, is the fact that teenagers are extremely distracting and your teen needs all his/her attention on the road.

My wife and I were sticklers about these laws, which made us unpopular with our sons, their friends, and (frustratingly) with some parents, who wanted us to flaunt the laws. But it’s only one year, and it’s important. Stay strong!

Additional Driver Training Options for Teens

Here’s another step that I took with my kids and I thought it was very helpful. I enrolled them in extra driving courses that beefed up their winter driving skills and defensive driver skills. As part of one of these courses, they were even given “drunk goggles,” which simulated how impaired their driving skills would be at different levels of intoxication.

I fully believe these courses improved my kids’ driving skills and awareness around the dangers of drinking and driving.

Teen Driver Contract

Finally, several years ago, I drafted a Teen Driver Contract that I used with my sons and I thought I’d share it with you. Feel free to download this contract. The number one goal of this contract is to start a conversation with your teen. Open communication is the best way to navigate this new (terrifying) phase of your child’s life.

Good luck!

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