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Crash course: a new bill wants to increase driver education to lessen traffic deaths in Colorado

A driver uses a cellphone in Maine, which has laws that ban people under 18 from using cellphones behind the wheel and bar all drivers from texting.
Robert F. Bukaty
In Colorado, traffic fatalities caused by drivers under 20 years old jumped from 24 deaths in 2019 to 35 in 2022, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Drivers over the age of 65, however, cause double the traffic fatalities that young drivers do.

State lawmakers want to add more driver education requirements for minors who are getting behind the wheel for the first time. Senate Bill 11, if passed, would make driver education mandatory for young drivers in order to reduce traffic fatalities statewide.

In order to get a driver license, first-time drivers up to 18 years old would have to complete a thirty-hour government-approved drivers education course and six hours of driving with an instructor. Both online and in-person driver education courses would qualify. Drivers between 18 and 21 years old would be required to complete four hours of instruction.

“We know that young folks have a significant impact on safety on the roads,” Senator Faith Winter said in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. “When you're looking at policy, you want to have the most significant impact you can. And one of the ways to do that is to prepare young drivers to take on driving in a responsible way.”

Almost 750 Coloradans died from car crashes in 2022, and according to the state's Department of Transportation, Colorado’s traffic fatalities have been increasing for the last three years. Fatalities caused by drivers under 20 years old jumped from 24 deaths in 2019 to 35 in 2022.

But CDOT also found that drivers over the age of 65 cause double the traffic fatalities that young drivers do.

Under the new bill, first-time drivers would be responsible for paying for driver education courses and instructors, although the bill would also create a reimbursement program for those costs.

“We want to make sure that this is affordable to all families,” Winter said. “There's a lot of teens that are contributing to their family income, and they need a car to get to work and to get to school and drive their siblings around.”

Some lawmakers are concerned the bill could create financial barriers for new drivers, despite the reimbursement program. An amendment to the bill caps reimbursements at $500.

“How have you thought about the financial impact this has on families?” Senator Cleave Simpson said. “I’m in agreement with better educated drivers, but how do we figure out that financial burden on families across the state?”

A web search for Colorado driver education programs revealed courses starting around $45, although many cost over $100. Behind-the-wheel instruction costs much more. For instance, Drive Safe Colorado lists itscheapest behind-the-wheel training at over $100 for one hour. To meet the suggested minimum drive-with-instructor requirement of six hours would be almost $550 with Drive Safe, an amount which would not be fully covered by the bill’s proposed reimbursement program.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill by a 4-3 vote. The bill will now move to the Appropriations Committee for a fiscal review.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.
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