January 31, 2023

As new data shows that the number of road deaths in Colorado hit a 41-year high in 2022, lawmakers are considering legislation that would require teens to complete a 30-hour driver education course and gain hands-on experience with an instructor before earning a driver’s license Driver license could be issued.

The bill – SB 23-011 – would bring Colorado’s education requirements closer to states like California, Texas and New Hampshire. The 30 hours of coursework could include online learning and would need to be provided by an approved program. The bill would also require six hours of driving with an instructor, or 12 hours in rural areas with a parent or guardian. These training requirements would build on existing qualifications for minors seeking a driver’s license, which include holding a 12-month permit and completing 50 hours of supervised driving.

For people between the ages of 18 and 21, the bill provides for a four-hour “driver awareness course.” It would also unify requirements for minors, only some of whom are currently required to complete coursework.

The intention, supporters say, is to make Colorado’s roads safer. Hours before the bill was passed in a first Senate hearing on Monday, the state Department of Transportation released new interim data showing 745 people died in traffic accidents in 2022, the most since 1981 and a 57% increase over the past year a decade ago. The number of fatalities among young drivers – between the ages of 15 and 20 – has risen steadily since 2019, the data shows, from 24 deaths to 35.

“That’s because our roads are becoming more dangerous every year,” said Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat and the sponsor of the bill. “…So it’s really important to make sure that we prepare our children to get behind the wheel of something that can take someone’s life, in the best possible way that prepares them for success.”

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

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

Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Fort Collins Democrat, said the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles stopped offering in-person driving tests shortly after the pandemic began three years ago. That’s still true, and people looking to get approval for a license now have to turn to outside testing companies, which charge about $71 per exam on average, she said.

“I understand that we want people to be good drivers,” Kipp told the Denver Post, “but if you have to take a driving course to get a driver’s license, then we put additional financial hurdles in front of young people, especially these ones.” come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Kipp plans to introduce its own bill that would help subsidize these private tests through additional fees — anywhere from $2 to $8, she said — for anyone who gets or renews their license. The state would then set up a fund and help offset the cost of third-party testing.

Winter said she’s also concerned about affordability — hence the tax credit — and pointed to some online courses that cost under $40.

The goal, she said, is to stem the tide of road fatalities.

“We’ve seen more road deaths every year,” Winter said. “What are we doing to make our streets safer?”

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