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Iowa OWI Laws

In Iowa, driving under the influence (DUI) or drugged and drunk driving is better known as operating while intoxicated or OWI. Regardless of its name, driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious crime. An OWI conviction carries harsh penalties and will impact your life for many years. You even face mandatory jail time for a first offense.

It's best to avoid driving while intoxicated. But if you get charged with an OWI, understanding the law is the first step toward protecting your interests.

OWI Laws: Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent

"Per Se" BAC Limit 0.08%
Zero Tolerance (Underage) BAC Limit 0.02%
Enhanced Penalty (Aggravated) BAC Limit 0.15%
Implied Consent to Submit to BAC Test? Yes (1-year license suspension for first refusal)

OWI Laws: Select Penalties

Minimum License Suspension or Revocation (1st, 2nd, 3rd offense) 180 days / 1 year / 3 years
Mandatory Substance Abuse Education or Assessment/Treatment? Both (can be mandatory)
Vehicle Confiscation Possible? Yes, after 2nd offense
Ignition Interlock Device Possible? Yes

Note: State laws are constantly changing through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to thoroughly research the law or check with an attorney to ensure you have the most recent information.

Iowa's OWI Law

Iowa's OWI law prohibits anyone from operating a motor vehicle while having:

  • A blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more
  • Any amount of a controlled substance in your blood or urine
  • A combination of alcohol and controlled substances

Iowa recognizes a per se intoxication BAC limit of 0.08%. Under a per se law, law enforcement views you as legally intoxicated if your BAC is at or above 0.08% or 0.04% if you are a commercial driver. If you are per se intoxicated, law enforcement does not need extra evidence of your intoxication to present to the court.

You can still face OWI charges if you are under the 0.08% BAC if the police officer has evidence of your impairment and you are unable to operate your vehicle safely.

Implied Consent Law

When a police officer suspects you of OWI, or you have been in an accident, they may ask you to submit to a preliminary screening test. This is usually done with a handheld device called a Breathalyzer or breath test. The preliminary test results can give the officer probable cause to request that you submit to chemical tests. You also provide an officer with probable cause for arrest if you refuse the preliminary screening and the officer has reason to believe you are intoxicated.

Under Iowa's implied consent law, by driving in Iowa, you have consented to chemical testing when a police officer has probable cause. Chemical tests can include breath, blood, and urine tests to confirm the presence of drugs or alcohol. Unlike the preliminary test, chemical test results are admissible against you in court.

You may refuse to cooperate with chemical testing, but this will not prevent your arrest and an OWI charge. Your refusal will result in a one-year suspension of your driving privileges or two years if this is your second OWI offense.

Evidence of your refusal is admissible against you in court.


You will face two separate legal actions if arrested for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) in the state of Iowa. There's a criminal case for the offense and a civil or administrative case involving your driver's license.

If your BAC is 0.15% or greater, you are subject to enhanced penalties and will not be eligible for probation or a deferred judgment.

Criminal Penalties

A first-time OWI in Iowa is a serious misdemeanor charge. If convicted, your sentence will include:

  • Mandatory minimum of 48 hours in jail with up to one year possible
  • Driver's license suspension for one year
  • Fines of $625 to $1,250
  • Probation
  • Substance abuse evaluation, with treatment if recommended
  • Substance abuse realities course

You may be eligible for a deferred judgment if you have never had an OWI or DUI/DWI in another state, you did not refuse chemical tests, and you did not cause bodily injury or death. A deferred judgment will count as a prior offense if you receive another OWI.

The penalties for a second offense only get more severe. Upon conviction, a second offense carried penalties of:

  • Mandatory minimum of seven days in jail, with up to two years possible
  • Fines from $1,875 to $6,250
  • Driver's license suspension for one year
  • Substance abuse evaluation, with treatment if recommended
  • Substance abuse realities education course
  • Completion of a drinking driver's course
  • Law enforcement may impound your vehicle

A third and subsequent offense increases your penalties to:

  • Mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail, with up to five years possible
  • Driver's license revocation for six years
  • Fines between $3,125 and $9,375
  • Substance abuse evaluation, with treatment if recommended
  • Substance abuse realities education course
  • Completion of a drinking driver's course
  • Law enforcement may impound your vehicle
  • Possible sentencing as a habitual offender, requiring a minimum of three years in prison

The judge may allow for community service hours or consider your work schedule in sentencing. The judge may also require that you pay restitution for any damages or injuries you caused to the victims. You may be court-ordered to repay any emergency services needed due to your OWI, such as ambulances, firefighters, or other public agencies who responded.

Civil Penalties

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) handles the civil penalties of an OWI case. The DOT will suspend your license when you fail chemical testing or refuse to submit to chemical tests, regardless of the outcome of your case. This suspension happens at the time of your OWI charge. You have 10 days to appeal your suspension with the DOT.

The court will order license suspension, too, which may add time to your suspension period.

Your license revocation period is different depending on your circumstances. If you are over 21 and failed chemical testing by having a controlled substance or a BAC of 0.08% or more, you face driving privileges suspension of:

  • First Offense: 180 days
  • Second Offense Within 12 years: One year, followed by ignition interlock requirement for one year
  • Third Offense Within 12 Years: Six-year suspension

If you refuse chemical testing, your license suspension is more prolonged. For your first refusal, your license gets suspended for one year. A second refusal will see your license suspended for two years. These penalties are the same for under 21 drivers who refuse chemical tests.

Also, if your OWI resulted in serious injury, you will receive another year of license suspension. If you caused the death of another person, you lose your license for six years, and you are not eligible for a temporary restricted license for two years.

To have your license reinstated, you must pay a civil penalty of $200 to the Department of Transportation.

Temporary Restricted License

A temporary restricted license (TRL) can allow you to drive to get to work, school, and other necessary appointments. You must be 21 or older to qualify. You are not eligible for a TRL if you received your OWI charge while driving a commercial vehicle.

You must present proof of financial responsibility. You will need to pay off fines, fees, and civil penalties. You must also retake and pass the vision, written, and driving tests.

Ignition Interlock Device

You will have to install an ignition interlock device (IID) and present a certificate of installation before applying for a temporary restricted license. For a first-offense OWI, you only need to have the IID installed on vehicles you operate. If it is your second or more offense, you must install an IID in all vehicles you own.

An IID is a device that connects to your car's ignition system. It acts as an alcohol breath test. You must supply a breath sample before you start the vehicle. If the IID detects any amount of alcohol in your system, the car will not run. The IID will prompt you to retest during your trip to ensure you remain sober.

If you tamper with or try to bypass the IID, you face a serious misdemeanor charge.

Under 21 OWI and Zero Tolerance Law

An Iowa driver who is under 21 cannot operate a motor vehicle with any alcohol or controlled substances in their blood or urine. This is Iowa's zero-tolerance law.

Under this law, an alcohol level of 0.02% will meet the per se limit. Any trace of controlled substances or their metabolites will also warrant an OWI charge. As long as your BAC is under 0.08%, you have committed an infraction. At 0.08% or more, you may face adult penalties.

If arrested on an OWI charge and you are under 18, the police officer will contact your parents or guardians and notify your school of your arrest.

Upon arrest, your license is automatically suspended for 60 days unless you refuse chemical tests. If you refuse, you lose your license for one year. A second OWI charge will suspend your license for 90 days. If you refuse to test a second time, you face a two-year suspension.

You are not eligible for a temporary restricted license if you are under 21.

If convicted, you need to complete the youthful offender substance abuse program as part of your sentence.

Iowa DUI (OWI) Resources

  • Iowa OWI Statute: Operating While Intoxicated (Iowa Code 321J.2)
  • Information for Offenders of Iowa's OWI Law: Brochure on the impaired driving laws of Iowa with a helpful checklist of your responsibilities (Iowa Dept. of Education)
  • OWI Suspensions/Revocations: Information about driver's license suspension in the wake of an OWI and how to reinstate your license (Iowa Dept. of Transportation)
  • Ignition Interlock Program: Basics on ignition interlock in Iowa, with links to approved providers (Iowa Dept. of Transportation)
  • OWI Education: Information about the various educational programs available for those convicted of an OWI in Iowa (Iowa Dept. of Education)
  • DUI Law: Articles and resources to help you understand impaired driving laws, court procedures, how to work with an attorney, and more (FindLaw)

Charged With an OWI? Get Professional Legal Help

Facing an OWI charge is overwhelming. A conviction can result in hefty fines, license suspension, and jail time. Consider hiring a defense attorney who will advocate on your behalf and provide legal advice, making the process easier. If you're arrested for OWI and need help, contact an OWI defense attorney in Iowa today.

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