Getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage, but the licensure process requires several extra steps for minors. Colorado has particularly stringent policies, so it’s helpful to understand the rules in advance — particularly due to COVID-19 and new social distancing rules.
Graduated Driver Licensing in Colorado
Colorado takes teen driver education and training very seriously. The current system of Graduated Driver Licensing was enacted into law in 1999 after a teen with little driving experience died in a terrible car accident. Over the past two decades, fatal car accidents involving minors have fallen by 50% in the state.
Parent and pediatric neuropsychologist Jill Isenberg offers some insight into the impact of additional driver education on teens.
"Many of the cognitive skills needed to be a successful driver are located broadly in the frontal lobes of the brain," said Isenberg. "This is one of the last brain regions to mature fully, which is why adolescents tend to have difficulty with driving."
Development of the frontal lobes isn't complete until people reach their early 20s, so extra driving practice before then is a necessity. Research shows that graduated licensing reduces accidents by forcing young drivers to log more practice hours, list distractions, and follow curfews.
Isenberg also recommends that parents consider adding their own layers of benchmarks once teens get their license.
"I think one of the key pieces for parents is not to think of it as letting their child drive as a whole experience," Isenberg said. "Rather, what initial or baby steps is the child ready for? For example, driving alone in the day time to familiar locations, and then gradually increasing what the child is allowed to do as the child shows good responsibility."
Colorado’s Licensing Process for Teens
In Colorado, your age when you apply for your permit determines the steps you must follow to get your license. The younger you are, the more driver education you'll need. Here’s how the rules break down by age:
Age 15 to 15.5: You must complete a 30-hour driver education course before applying for your minor’s permit. Though you may start the course at age 14 and 10 months, you may not receive a permit until you turn 15. Once you have your permit, you must log 50 hours of driving practice plus six hours of behind-the-wheel driver training.
Age 15.5 to 16: You must complete either a 30-hour driver education course or a 4-hour driver awareness class before applying for your minor’s permit. Once you have your permit, you’ll need to log 50 hours of driving practice.
Age 16 to 17: You can apply for your minor’s permit at any time and use it to log the required 50 hours of driving practice.
Age 18+: You can apply for an adult permit, which requires passing a written test about the rules of the road. There’s no required number of practice hours to apply for your license.
If you’re under 18, you’ll need to hold your minor permit for one full year before you apply for your license. When you go to get your license, you’ll need the following paperwork:
Valid minor’s permit.
Driving practice log signed by a parent or guardian.
Behind-the-wheel training certificate (if applicable).
Your Social Security card.
Proof of Colorado residency, such as a school report card.
Money for fees.
In general, you can take a road test at the driver's license office or at an approved driving school as part of your coursework. If you take a test privately, you’ll also need to bring your official Drive Test Completion form.
Due to COVID-19 and the state’s phased reopening plan, Colorado is not currently offering road tests at their state offices, so you’ll need to contact a local driving school to schedule a test and bring that paperwork with you when you apply. New drivers must appear in person, though you can begin the process online to save time.
Due to safety concerns, you’ll need to book an appointment online: no walk-ins are accepted. You’ll also need to wear a face mask and pass a temperature check upon entering.