teens hitting the road

Learning The Rules of the Road with the In & Out Driving School

by Kathryn Camp

When our children are born, they need our support even just to hold up their heads. Thus begins an invisible progression toward the day when they have complete independence. Of all the milestones we cross with our child, none gives parents more cause to worry, appropriately, than the age-sixteen rite of passage – when their baby boy or girl takes the wheel.

teens hitting the road

In my house, he who so recently ate raisins in a booster seat now asks to drive me to the grocery store to log more hours, and soon he will get his license, ask for the keys, and discover the freedom of the road.

This generation of new Colorado drivers and their parents will find that the laws have changed since the days when the right to drive on the sixteenth birthday came with merely a wait at the DMV and passing written and road tests.  Things changed after a 1998 incident in Greeley when 4 teens were killed in a collision with an 18-wheeler on the driver’s 16th birthday.

Parent groups and law enforcement agencies worked for several years with state legislators to create a system to ensure that Colorado teens had less distractions, and plenty of documented learning time before taking the wheel without supervision. The result is a Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program that begins with 30 hours of classroom instruction, and progresses through a series of requirements from age 14 to age 18.

The GDL program was launched statewide during a period when many school districts ended Driver’s Ed programs due to budgetary limitations, liability concerns, maintenance issues and staffing needs. This inspired retired Arizona Police Captain Greg Denny to start the In & Out Driving School, which is owned and operated throughout the Western Slope by Carbondale native and retired Eagle County Sherriff Deputy Dave Lawson.  Lawson is also a former founding board member and teacher at Ross Montessori School, so he combines his law enforcement perspective with his experience in the classroom to create an engaging experience for the students.

Colorado outlawed texting behind the wheel for all drivers, Lawson explains, adding that “kids sometimes need someone other than Mom and Dad to help them understand the gravity of a bad choice.”

In & Out Driving School’s curriculum is unique in that every instructor is a former law enforcement officer. “While with the Sheriff’s office, I educated drivers punitively, pulling them over after an infraction, and explaining why. Now I have an opportunity to teach kids the why, what and how of safe driving before they make mistakes that can be dangerous to themselves and others.”

The onus of teaching a child to drive remains in the hands of parents, who are required in Colorado to keep a log of hours spent riding alongside their permitted driver – 50 hours of daytime driving and 10 hours of nighttime driving during a twelve-month period.

“Teaching a child to drive really begins when you’re first strapping them into their baby seats.  The habits you keep will teach your children from the beginning,” Lawson says. “Your small child learns how to use a fork by eating with you at the dinner table mimicking what you do.  They continue this throughout their lives. If they see you talking on the phone while racing down Highway 82 – or drinking then driving, or road raging, or answering a call when you know you really shouldn’t – they will do the same.”

Spoken like the word of the law – with a warning, not a citation–this time.

“The biggest contributing factor to car accidents in the 15-20 year age range are distraction, inattention and careless driving,” Lawson explains. “Accidents caused by drinking and driving have actually dropped compared to teen-related accidents in previous decades.  But now we face a whole new challenge – cell phones. The GDL is designed to take away distractions until drivers have gained enough experience to make good choices.”

Watch a 12 minute video that tells the story of the Greeley kids and their parents, thanks to the In & Out Driving School. This video can help start a conversation in your household that can continue as you and your child approach this milestone together. 

Colorado GDL
(Graduated Driver’s License) requirements:

The steps required to get a Colorado Driver’s License vary depending upon when a teen starts the process. For Example, to qualify for license on the 16th birthday, classroom instruction must be completed before the 15th birthday.

For those starting the process later:
Ages 16 – 18 – Classroom course is recommended but not required before testing for a Learner’s Permit. Same rules and requirements apply.

1st Stage
Learner’s Permit

Age 14 + 7 months – 15 + 6 months  30 hours of classroom instruction required before testing for a Learner’s Permit.

Age 15 + 6 months – 16  At least 4 hours of classroom instruction required before testing for a Learner’s Permit.

Learner’s Permit held for 12 months before testing for license

Parent-accompanied driving: 50 daytime hrs + 10 nighttime hrs No kids other than siblings in the car

2nd Stage
Restricted License 

6 hours instructional-driving mandatory before testing for a Restricted License, if driver is younger than 16 ½ when testing. Cell phone OFF while behind the wheel, with strict penalties. (Parents can install apps for supporting this restriction.)

No nighttime driving after midnight.
First 6 months = no passengers.
Second 6 months = only one passenger.

3rd Stage
Full Privilege License
Earned after 12 months with restricted license, through age 18.

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