Your First-Time Colorado Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: January 11, 2021
Most first-time drivers in Colorado must complete a drivers ed course to learn how to drive safely. This step is required by the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles (CO DMV) to obtain a driving permit or a drivers license. Fortunately, it’s not difficult going through one of these courses, and there are plenty available to choose from.

Steps to Getting Your Colorado License

If you’re looking to get your Colorado license, we’re here to help. Welcome to our step by step guide to get you off of your couch and out onto the road. Getting your license is an exciting, scary, and confusing time, sometimes all at the same time. As for the confusing part, the Colorado DMV doesn’t help matters much. Let’s look at some things that might make things easier. First off, let’s clear up some Colorado DMV terms. Terms (and abbreviations) you should know:
  • Driver’s Ed Course—In Colorado, this is a minimum 30-hour classroom-based course covering all aspects of driving.
  • Driver Awareness Program—This is a minimum 4-hour classroom-based course that encourages safe driving practices.
  • Behind-the-Wheel Training—This is a minimum 6-hour course that puts you in a car with a licensed professional driving instructor, allowing you to experience driving under real conditions.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You may be able to skip the behind-the-wheel requirement. If you live more than 30 miles from a certified driving school, you can substitute 12 additional hours of practice driving instead. To see if you qualify for this exemption, check the Behind the Wheel Zip Code chart. Now that you know a little vocabulary, it’s time to tackle another wrinkle in the Colorado Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) process. It seems like potential drivers of every age (including half birthdays) has a different set of hoops to jump through. Let’s take a minute to break these rules down so that you can see the path you’ll need to follow.
  • If you are aged 15 to 15 1/2, you’ll need to:
    • Complete a DMV approved drivers ed course. While taking the 4-hour driver awareness program is not required, it is strongly recommended.
    • Apply for a permit
    • Complete 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training
    • Complete 50 hours of practice drive time
  • If you are aged 15 1/2 to 16, you’ll need to:
    • Complete a DMV approved drivers ed course or an approved 4-hour driver awareness program. While taking the 4-hour course is enough to fulfill the requirement, taking drivers ed too is strongly recommended.
    • Apply for a permit
    • Complete 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training
    • Complete 50 hours of practice drive time
  • If you are aged 16 to 17 you’ll need to:
    • Apply for a permit
    • Complete 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training
    • Complete 50 hours of practice drive time
    • If you start the process for getting a license at age 16 or beyond, there is no requirement to complete drivers ed or the 4-hour driver awareness program, but it is strongly recommended that you take one or both.
After you have had your permit for 12 months, you can apply for a license.

The Road to a Colorado License in a Nutshell

The quick and dirty looks like this:
  • Take drivers ed
  • Get a learner’s permit
  • Complete 50 hours of practice driving
  • Pass a road skills test
Now let’s take a look at what it’ll take to get those four steps done.

Step 1—Take Colorado Drivers Ed

In Colorado, drivers ed is a 30-hour course covering topics like these:
  • Safe driving techniques in dangerous conditions such as heavy traffic, bad weather, construction zones, and at railroad crossings
  • Colorado driving law and rules of the road
  • Identification of Colorado road signs and their meanings
  • Valuable information helpful for passing the written permit test
The Colorado DMV allows driving candidates to complete drivers ed in a classroom or online. For many driving candidates, an online course makes more sense, especially if they have scheduling or transportation issues. If you think completing a course online might be a good fit for you, here’s a list of some great Colorado online drivers ed providers.

Best Colorado DMV Approved Online Drivers Ed Course Providers

Website Name Phone I Drive Safely 866-388-9068 Drivers Ed 888-651-2886 Driver Ed To Go 866-749-4445 Teen Driving Course 800-482-6593 Co Driver Ed 888-385-3272


If you (or your folks) would prefer a traditional driving school experience, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.

How to Choose the Best Driving School for Your Teen

Step 2—Apply for Your Permit

After completing the 30 hours of classroom or online drivers ed, you are now free to apply for your Colorado instruction permit. Visit your local DMV office (you may be able to schedule an appointment.) and be prepared for the following
If you are aged 15 to 15 1/2, you’ll need to bring: If you are aged 15 1/2 to 16, you’ll need to bring: If you are aged 16 to 17, you’ll need to bring:

After you have shown all of this to the folks at the DMV, hold on to it! You’ll need much of it again when you apply for your license.

Now it’s time for your written permit test

At the DMV, the test is available in English and Spanish.

BTW—The permit test can also be taken at an approved driver education school. If you choose this option, be sure to take your test results to the DMV.   

To pass the 25-question multiple-choice test, you’ll need to score 80%. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare.

How to Pass the Permit Test

Another way to give yourself a leg up on passing the permit test is to consider one (or more) of the following:

A permit practice test has everything the “real” test does, except the pressure. That’s because practice tests feature questions taken from actual DMV exams. It’s like seeing all the answers before the test even begins! Don’t head to the DMV without a dress rehearsal, you want to pass the first time.

You can find permit practice tests (both paid and free versions) all over the internet.

What If Your Test Didn’t Go Like You Planned?

What if you get to the testing center and, despite all your best preparation, your nerves get the best of you and you wind up failing the test? First, don’t panic. Nearly 1 out of 3 test-takers fail on their first attempt.

Fail Your Permit Test? You’re Not Alone

The Colorado DMV gives every test-taker three attempts to get a passing score. The only frustrating thing is that you have to wait until the next day before you can try again.

How to Retake Your Permit Test

Another Note—If you have recently moved to Colorado and started this dance in another state, here are some tips that might help, and here is some DMV specific information.

I Just Got My Permit and Now We’re Moving?!?

Step 3—50 Hours of Practice Driving

Now it’s time to put that learners permit to good use. Before you can take a driving test, you’ll have to complete 50 hours of practice driving, and at least 10 of those will need to happen after dark. Remember, your permit only allows you to drive with a driving instructor, parent, legal guardian, or a licensed adult 21 years of age or older (authorized by parent/guardian) in the front seat. While you might be nervous at first, do your best to enjoy this time and always pay close attention to what’s going on around you. You never know the kinds of things, good and bad, that you might learn from the drivers around you. Also, do yourself the favor of driving in as many conditions as you can, places like:
  • On the highway
  • In neighborhoods
  • On winding or hilly roads
  • In downtown areas
  • In bad weather
It’s better if you don’t see these things for the first time on your own. The DMV won’t allow you to apply for your license until 12 months after receiving your permit. There’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 50 hours! It can only do you good.

Step 4—Pass a Driving Test

Now’s the time to show off all you’ve learned by passing a driving test. The required driving test to get your license may be administered at the DMV, but it’s more likely you’ll be taking it at an approved driving school.
During the driving test, you’ll be graded on:
  • 3 left turns
  • 3 right turns
  • 2 stops
  • 2 lane changes
  • Other general driving skills
Once you’ve passed your driving test, it’s time to head for the DMV.
When you arrive, you will need: Cross all those items off the list, and you’ll be walking out with your shiny new license!


Using Your New License

Per the rules of the Colorado Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program, your new license will come with some restrictions:
  • For the first six months after getting your license, you can have no passengers under 21 in the car with you unless a parent or other licensed adult driver over 21 is in the car, too.
  • For the next six months, you can drive with one passenger under age 21
  • More than one passenger in the front seat is NEVER allowed
  • Texting or other use of a cell phone is strictly prohibited
  • Unless you are driving to or from work or because of a medical emergency, you won’t be able to drive between midnight and 5 AM.

NOTE: Some municipalities have different driving curfew rules. Be sure to check out the ones that apply to where you are driving.

A Final Note

Any licensed driver will tell you that you will never face a driving situation as complicated, nerve-wracking, and time-consuming as getting your license. By no means should you let your guard down once you’re behind the wheel but, rest assured. You’ll never face anything on the road that will compare with the process it took to get you your license.
Good luck as you work your way through this. Can’t wait to see you out on the road!

A Final Final Note

If you’ve made it this far, may we suggest you bookmark this page? You’ll probably be coming back to it often as you work your way through this!

Other helpful items from the Colorado DMV:

Parent’s Guide (This guide is also available in the Apple app store)
The “Are you ready to put your teen in the driver’s seat?” quiz