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Sam Cole
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Colorado used to be a hub of the high tech auto industry, or at least what passed for high tech in the early 1900s. The Fritchle Automobile and Battery Company in Denver produced a 1914 electric car that could travel up to 100 miles on just one charge. There’s only one Fritchle electric car left today, and to see it, you’ll have to travel to History Colorado Center in downtown Denver.

Today, whether Colorado residents have an electric car or a regular gas-powered model, they need good auto insurance to protect themselves and others. Read on to find out what you need to know about insurance requirements and traffic safety in the Centennial state.

Colorado Vehicle Insurance Requirements

Summary

Colorado requires that drivers have insurance, but not everyone does. As of 2012, 16 percent of drivers lacked auto insurance, placing Colorado in the top 10 least-insured states, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

In Colorado, drivers must carry liability insurance for injuries and property damage to other cars. The state encourages – but doesn’t require — uninsured/underinsured motorist, collision and comprehensive coverage.

Who Needs Vehicle Insurance in Colorado?

Colorado requires all drivers to insure their cars before they are registered and driven. There is one exception: inoperable vintage cars from 1975 or earlier that are privately stored while they’re being rebuilt. These classic cars do not need liability insurance, but they must still be registered with the state.

Proof of Insurance

You must prove that you carry at least the minimum required Colorado auto insurance, in the form of an insurance card or a picture on a cell phone, whenever you’re driving. Colorado will also accept as proof:

  • A copy of your car insurance policy
  • A letter from your insurance company, if it shows the company letterhead
  • A computer printout from an insurer
  • A fax of proof of insurance
  • Email from your car insurer
  • In some cases, you may also be able to log onto your insurer’s website and verify your policy.

You ’ll need to show proof of auto insurance in Colorado:

  • When you register your vehicle (or renew the registration)
  • If a law enforcement officer asks for it
  • If you are in a crash

Minimum Liability Insurance Requirements

For a vehicle to be properly insured in Colorado, it needs to have the following coverage:

  • $25,000 liability coverage per person for injury
  • $50,000 liability coverage per accident for injury
  • $15,000 coverage for damage to someone else’s property or vehicle

While those are the minimum requirements, consumer advocates recommend that policyholders looking to protect their assets get at least $100,000/$300,000 in liability coverage per person and per accident, respectively, as the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association notes. (For more information, see the section below entitled “How Much Vehicle Insurance Do You Need?”)

Alternatives to Insurance in Colorado

Although there are alternatives to car insurance in Colorado, the state does not make it cheap: Drivers must pay $65,000 in cash or hold a surety bond in the same amount. Essentially, such drivers insure themselves, and they’ll still need to show proof of financial responsibility if they are in an accident, stopped by police or need to register their vehicle. They’ll also need to dig further into their pockets should they get in a crash that causes more than $65,000 worth of property damage or injuries.

What Happens If You Don’t Have Car Insurance?

Over 16 percent of Colorado motorists take a risk every time they get behind the wheel by driving without insurance. If you get caught, here’s what happens:

  • Four points are added to your record (your license is suspended after 12 points in 12 months)
  • You’re fined at least $500
  • Your license is suspended until you get insurance

The penalties only go up. On the second offense, the fine is doubled and your license is suspended for four months. Moreover, reinstating a suspended license has its own costs; there’s a $40 reinstatement fee, plus you must show “future proof of liability insurance” for three years by filing form SR22.

If you cancel or don’t renew your policy, insurers are required by law to notify the Division of Motor Vehicles. So if you’re switching car insurance, be careful not to leave a gap in coverage. Your state’s database will flag the gap after about 90 days, and you must prove that the car was, in fact, insured. If it wasn’t, you can be hit with a fine. If you simply fail to respond, your license plates can be taken away.

How Much Vehicle Insurance Do You Need?

Colorado’s minimum liability coverage of 25/50 is well below experts’ recommendations of 100/300. If you factor in the cost of surgery or an extended hospital stay, you’ll see why: $50,000 is often not enough to cover costs, and at-fault drivers are responsible for coming up with anything beyond that amount.

There’s more. Given the high number of drivers cruising the state without an insurance policy, you may want to consider uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which insurance companies in the states are required to offer.

What Percentage of Drivers in
Colorado Lack Vehicle Insurance?
16.2% National Average: 12.6 %

Lastly, collision and comprehensive coverage, both of which must be offered to consumers by law, can prove valuable. Such coverage ensures that your own vehicle gets repaired should you be at fault or if your car is damaged by a blizzard or other natural disaster. You may want to skip such policies, however, for older cars that are not worth very much.

Required state discount. The state mandates that Colorado auto insurance policies be discounted for citizens above the age of 54 for three years, provided the drivers take a DMV-approved driving course.

For more on the subject and the type of discounts you may qualify for, see the MoneyGeek guide to car insurance.

Car Insurance and Special Groups

Teen Drivers in Colorado

In Colorado, crash rates for teen drivers 16 to 19 are four times higher than those of older drivers, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). If you have a teen driver, visit the Colorado Teen Driving page sponsored by CDOT and the Colorado Teen Driving Alliance to learn more about keeping your teen driver safe.

If you’re adding your child to an existing policy for a family car or buying your teenager a new car, expect to pay more in premiums. Still, your insurance company may offer good student discounts or other money-saving options for teens. Also, be aware that your teen will be safer – and have lower insurance premiums – if he’s riding a large-frame car with crash protection and advanced safety features such as airbags.

The Impact a Teen Has on Your Colorado Insurance

Median annual price change for families with a teen driver on their policy:

$1,693 increase This is a difference of 111%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th – 75th Percentile Median
Speed Bump

Average annual premium increase if your teen gets a speeding ticket while driving 11-15 mph over the speed limit:

Male teen

$296

Speedometer
Female teen

$263

Check Out Discounts for Teens in Colorado

Impact on annual premium with Good Student and Defensive Driving discounts:

$257 saved

Compare Premiums from Colorado Insurance Providers

Policy costs vary more than you may think, so get more than one quote. Check out the annual average premiums for a married couple and a 16-year-old teen driver in Colorado:

Insurance Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
GEICO $1,576 $2,906 $6,832
American Family $1,736 $3,243 $6,044
Farmers $1,722 $3,332 $6,079
State Farm $1,836 $3,548 $6,400
Progressive $2,099 $3,895 $6,887

Colorado Premiums: Mustang vs. Minivan

The car you choose for your teen will have a powerful impact on your insurance premium and can save you thousands of dollars, according to industry insiders.

Average premium for two 2014
Mustang GTs

$4,177

Average premium for two 2008
Town and Country Limiteds

$2,981

Annual benefit of minivans:

$1,196 saved This is 29% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + 16 Year Old
25th – 75th Percentile Median

College Students in Colorado

Students from out of state who are attending college in Colorado don’t need to switch over their driver’s license or registration, but they should check that their insurance policy covers them while they live in Colorado. In-state students, however, have to follow the same rules as everyone else. They should probably talk with an agent before loaning out their car to their new friends at the residence hall; they may find themselves — or, worse, their parents — financially responsible for damage done to the car when someone else is driving.

High School Drivers vs. College Students in Colorado

Median annual premium change with a college student vs. high school driver

$864 decrease This is a decrease of 25%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Annual Premiums for Colorado Insurance Providers

Every year, review your policy before it renews to see whether you could get a better deal. Check out the average premiums for a married couple and a 19-year-old college student in Colorado.

Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
GEICO $1,104 $1,976 $4,160
American Family $1,196 $2,348 $4,757
Farmers $1,394 $2,657 $4,763
State Farm $1,342 $2,607 $4,848
Progressive $1,547 $2,831 $5,159

Distance Discount: Savings for Colorado College Students

You may see a slight break in your auto insurance premium if your student lives 150+ miles away from home.

Average premium for a 19-year-old male
  • $2,946 at home
  • $2,403 at school
  • $543 in savings
Average premium for a 19-year-old female
  • $2,600 at home
  • $2,239 at school
  • $361 in savings

Will Your Car Choice Affect Your Premium in Colorado?

Since insurers associate sports cars with speeding, you'll save more on your policy if your college student drives a sedan or minivan.

2014 Mustang GTs (2)

$3,110

2008 Town and Country Limited minivans (2)

$2,207

Annual benefit of minivans

$903 saved This is 29% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + College Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Military Drivers in Colorado

With more than 37,200 active-duty military personnel living in the state, Colorado has more than ten times those on active duty in neighboring Wyoming. Military men and women and veterans in Colorado can take advantage of discounts available to them on auto insurance, either from specialty carriers or major insurance companies. Call around or research online for the best deals.

Military personnel from other states must still insure their vehicles while operating in Colorado, although the state grants exemptions for ownership tax. To get the exemption, complete a Nonresidents and Military Service Exemption from Specific Ownership Tax Affidavit (Form DR 2667) and deliver it to the local title and registration office.

Colorado Service Members:
How Your Choice of Vehicle Affects Your Premium

Rollover crashes are more common among SUVs and pickups, according to the Insurance Information Institute, but an older model SUV, sedan or minivan will drive up your premium less than a recent model sports car. The reason? Insurers associate sports cars with speeding.

Comparison of Premium Ranges by Driver Age and Vehicle for a Military Driver
25-Year-Old Driver
50-Year-Old Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Age-Based Perks for Colorado
Service Members

Median auto insurance
for service members:

$1,124
Male (25 yrs)$1,303
Male (50 yrs)$1,020
$283 savings
Female (25 yrs)$1,244
Female (50 yrs)$1,041
$203 savings

Compare Average Premiums Available to Colorado Military Personnel

Whether you're in the service or not, it pays to do some comparison shopping. Here are the average annual rates you can get in Colorado.

Premium Comparison for a Military Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Seniors in Colorado

Colorado is a great place to drive as a senior. Anyone over 55 who takes a driver safety course approved by the state DMV, such as the ones offered by AARP or AAA, gets an automatic discount on their premiums. Better yet, these courses can be completed online.

Undocumented Workers in Colorado

Since 2013, Colorado has been among the states that allows undocumented workers to get licenses – and, by extension, car insurance.

The law “makes Colorado roads safer and results in greater savings in automobile insurance premiums for all Colorado drivers,” according to the Colorado Fiscal Institute. Licensed drivers, it says, are more likely to know traffic and road laws, buy insurance and register their vehicle.

Pointing out that Colorado has a backlog of immigrants still waiting to obtain licenses, the Institute points out that unlicensed immigrants make up a quarter of all Colorado’s uninsured motorists. But unlike other motorists, it notes, immigrants have traditionally had no choice; they were barred from obtaining either car insurance or a driver’s license.

The Institute estimates that the Colorado drivers could eventually see savings of $29.5 million in insurance premiums annually from the 2013 law. Insurance companies could expect a revenue boost of $113.1 million annually. It adds that other states allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses have seen a sharp drop in the percentage of uninsured motorists.

Ridesharing Insurance in CO: Are You Covered?

Colorado was the first state to officially embrace ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, with the governor signing legislation in 2014 that expressly authorized them to do business in the state. But that doesn’t mean the fine print is worked out. A year later, the Public Utilities Commission was still hammering out the rules. So, although drivers can be assured they are working legally, they still need to make certain they are covering their bases in terms of insurance.

Most auto insurance companies distinguish between a car driven for personal use and one driven for hire. Since rideshare drivers use their vehicles for both, they may not be covered by their personal liability policies when they’re driving to pick up a fare. That’s where a ridesharing company’s own insurance policy kicks in – or does it?

It depends. To protect drivers, Colorado requires ridesharing services to cover drivers whenever the app is turned on, even if a passenger isn’t yet in the car. But rideshare drivers should still check to make sure they have the usual slate of coverage, including personal injury protection and uninsured motorist coverage, before they start picking up passengers. (Rideshare passengers should also check with their insurer to make sure they’re covered in the event of an accident.)

Car Accidents: How to File a Claim in Colorado

Colorado uses a tort system, meaning that the insurance company of the at-fault driver pays any claim in the event of an accident. Here’s what that means for filing a claim in a scenario not involving injury, alcohol or a hit and run (in such instances, you should immediately contact local law enforcement):

  • Exchange insurance information with the other driver(s); you’ll need this to fill out an accident report. Take pictures of the damage and collect contact information from witnesses, if any.
  • Immediately submit an accident report online or download one and mail it to the State of Colorado Motor Vehicle Division.
  • Call your insurance company, keeping in mind that if another driver is at fault, you’ll have to file a claim with that person’s insurance. For large claims, it may be worthwhile to contact a lawyer to ensure you are offered a reasonable settlement.

Best and Worst States for Drivers: How Does Colorado Rank?

By traffic fatality rates per miles driven, Colorado is the 22nd safest state for drivers and passengers – and still improving, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 1975, there were 3.5 fatalities for every 100 million miles driven; by 2013, that number was down to just 1.02.

Sam Cole with the Colorado Department of Transportation chalks up the drop in fatalities to multiple factors, including tougher DUI laws, enforcement of seat belt laws and public education. For still better results, he says, Colorado needs a concerted effort on all fronts. “No one measure is going to make a huge difference. It’s a combination of enforcement, new laws and education,” he says. “It’s a comprehensive approach that continues to be needed to bring down the rate of fatalities.”

Colorado Driver Safety Ranking

26th in the U.S.
About Our Data

The driver safety table shows the different safety factors that contribute to your state's overall safety rank (in the green box). The overall safety ranking and the National Ranking column scores in each category (including crash fatality rates) are from safest to most dangerous, with 1st being the safest and 51st the least safe.

How did we create the safety rankings?

We created a traffic safety ranking of all US states plus the District of Columbia by combining data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We looked at fatality rates by distance traveled as well as by population and gave more weight to behaviors that were riskier and preventable (i.e., drunk driving, not using a seat belt), as well as to accidents that involved more than one party (i.e., multi-vehicle).

Driver Safety Profile Number of Fatalities Fatality Rate

The fatality rate is the rate per one billion vehicle miles traveled, except for pedestrian and bicyclist fatality measures, which are per measured per a population of 100,000.

Ranking
(National)

Rankings are in order of safest to least safe. A state with the lowest fatality rate would be the safest, and thus ranked #1.

Drunk Driving-Related Fatalities 144 3.07 21st
Speeding-Related Fatalities 150 3.19 27th
Passenger Vehicle Unrestrained Fatalities 177 3.77 30th
Unhelmeted Motorcycle Fatalities 55 1.17 42nd
Multiple Vehicle Fatalities 205 4.36 22nd
Pedestrian Fatalities 50 0.95 16th
Bicyclist Fatalities 12 0.23 38th
Total Vehicle Fatalities 481 10.24 23rd

Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Colorado: Protecting You from Injury on the Road

In Colorado, it is a traffic violation to ride a horse on the street while intoxicated, but the penalties for driving a motor vehicle while under the influence are much higher. This includes driving while high on marijuana, something the state is now addressing thanks to new laws legalizing recreational use. Cole sees some benefit in the law from the perspective of traffic safety. “It’s no secret people drove high before marijuana was legalized in 2014, but now we have funds from marijuana taxes to educate people on the dangers of driving high,” he says.

The state has some strong legislation in place to protect drivers and passengers, although the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety has urged Colorado to strengthen its laws regarding seat belts, motorcycle helmets, and young driver protections.

Safe Driving Laws – Colorado

  Requirement State Law Impact Details
Mandatory seatbelts Estimated 169 passenger lives saved annually in Colorado with current seat belt use Required for drivers and passengers.
Child passenger safety Estimated one life saved annually at current rate of child restraint use for children 0-4 Infants: Rear-facing car seat in the back; 1-3-year-olds: child safety seats; 4- to 7-year-olds: booster seats
Driving under the influence (DUI) N/a DUI triggered by 0.08 blood alcohol content 0.02 if you are a teen; DWAI by 0.05 BAC. It is also illegal to drive with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
Ignition interlock after DUI (in some counties) Effective at preventing re-arrest rates for DUIs during the time they are installed, according to NHTSA. Can be implemented if you were driving under the influence or refused chemical testing; two years of ignition interlock if your BAC is above 0.15. For the first offense, DUIs may also result in a year of jail, up to $1,000 in fines; and a license suspension for nine months
Talking on cell or texting while driving N/a Ban on cell phones for novice drivers; ban on text messaging for all drivers
Protections for young drivers N/a Secondary laws in place banning passengers under 21 in first six months and limiting drivers to one passenger under 21 in the second six months; intermediate drivers cannot drive between midnight and 5 a.m.
Motorcycle helmet law Partial Estimated 19 lives saved annually under current helmet usage rates Enforcement for all passengers and drivers under 18
Bicycle helmet law No statewide helmet law

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Governors Highway Safety Association

Car Insurance Resources for Colorado Residents

Colorado Motor Vehicle Insurance Plan

Drivers who are refused coverage by Colorado auto insurance companies can turn to the Western Association of Automobile Insurance Plans (WAAIP), which Colorado falls under, to buy a plan.

Consumer’s Guide to Auto Insurance

The Colorado Division of Insurance produces this guide that breaks down the state’s regulations, what to look for in a policy and which discounts they are eligible for.

Division of Insurance

The Division of Insurance falls under the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. It offers pamphlets on car insurance for consumers, but the site is most useful for customers who need to file a complaint or make sure a company is legitimate.

Division of Motor Vehicles

The Division of Motor Vehicles is run by the Colorado Department of Revenue. Motorists can register vehicles, get licensed and access driving records at a DMV office; the website provides details.

Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association

Part consumer protection association, part communications agency, RMIIA is a nonprofit advocate for Coloradans and residents of three other states. Its goal is to bridge the knowledge gap between insurers and their customer base.