Iowa OWI Laws & Penalties

If you drink and drive in Iowa, you are under the scrutiny of serious penalties. It is hard to get away without consequences, so the more you know about them, the better for you. Learn how the state of Iowa treats DUI offenses to increase your chances to minimize the potential penalties.

What is an Iowa OWI Offense?

Drink and drive offenses in Iowa are officially called OWI offenses (operating under influence). It is important to note that operating a vehicle doesn’t mean that the vehicle has to be moving at the moment of arrest. If your vehicle has been parked at that moment, but you were drunk and in full physical control over it, you’ll be arrested and charged with DUI.

You must not drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combination of both drugs and alcohol. Your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels, as well as traces of any drugs in your organism, can be determined by a chemical test.

Most often, that’s going to be a breathalyzer test. In other cases, it may be a blood or a urine test.

In order to get charged with DUI, your BAC level hs to meet or exceed the following limits:

 
  • 0.02% for drivers under 21 years of age
  • 0.04% for commercial drivers
  • 0.08% for all other drivers

Everybody is different, therefore a different amount of alcohol affects drivers differently. However, the limits are the same for everyone.

If you thought that you could avoid DUI charges and penalties by not submitting to a chemical test, you couldn’t be further from the truth. At the moment when you took control over that vehicle, you have expressed your consent to do the test upon request by a police officer.

Iowa DUI laws have adopted the implied consent doctrine, hence refusing a test is being penalized. It is best to learn what brings lesser penalties for your situation – whether it is submitting to a test or refusing it – before deciding on what to do. Learning about the possible penalties will help a lot for such a situation.


penalties for dui in iowa

Having an open bottle with alcohol or any other type of container filled with alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle can also get you charged with DUI. Even if the driver has not drunk at all, as long as some of the passengers have an open container, the driver is guilty of DUI. It may seem like a small offense, but you should know that it may possibly send the driver to jail.

Penalties for an Iowa DUI Offense

If you commit any of the deeds that constitute an Iowa DUI offense, you will be punished with the prescribed administrative and criminal penalties.

The severity of the penalty depends on several factors, including the actual BAC, the age of the driver, and the number of previous DUI offenses.

Regarding the number of previous DUI offenses, it is important to note that the state of Iowa has a lookback period of 12 years. It means that only the DUI offenses you have committed in the last 12 years count when the judge determines how many of them you have committed before.

Having that in mind, the penalties for an Iowa DUI offense are:

Penalties for First Iowa OWI Offense

The first OWI offense in Iowa is a serious misdemeanor. It is punishable by:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • Up to $1250 in fines
  • The judge may waive up to $625 of the fine if the offense did not result in injury, damages or death or order community service for the portion or the whole fine
  • Driving license suspension of 180 days with a possibility to get a restricted driving license immediately
  • If the offense resulted in a crash or your BAC was 0.15% or more, you must wait 30 days to apply for a restricted driving license and install an ignition interlock device
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment course for drinking drivers
  • Substance abuse education program
  • Possible vehicle impounding 

Penalties for Second Iowa OWI Offense

The second Iowa DUI offense is an aggravated misdemeanor, leading to:

  • Up to 2 years in jail, with a mandatory minimum service of 7 days
  • Fines between $1875 and $6250
  • Driving license suspension of 1 year with a possibility to get a restricted license after 45 days
  • Ignition interlock device for 1 year
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment course for drinking drivers
  • Substance abuse education program
  • Possible vehicle impounding 

Penalties for Third and every Other Subsequent Iowa DUI Offense

Your third and every other subsequent DUI offense within a 12-year period is a Class D felony and results in more serious penalties, such as:

  • Up to 5 years in jail with a mandatory minimum service of 30 days
  • Fines between $3125 and $9375
  • Driving license suspension of 1 year with a possibility to get a restricted license after 45 days
  • Ignition interlock device for 1 year
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment course for drinking drivers
  • Substance abuse education program
  • Possible vehicle impounding 

Penalties for a DUI Offense That Has Resulted in Death or Serious Injury

If your drunk driving causes an accident that results in the death or serious injury of another person, then your offense is considered a Class B felony. If convicted, expect the following penalties:

  • Up to 25 years in prison
  • $150,000 in victim restitution 

DUI Penalties for Test Refusal in Iowa

The implied consent law does not allow you to refuse a chemical test. That’s why it results in the following punishments:

  • For the first test refusal, driving license suspension of 1 year, with the possibility to apply for a restricted license after 90 days with an installed ignition interlock device
  •  For the second and every other subsequent refusal, driving license suspension of 2 years, with the possibility to apply for a restricted license after 90 days with an installed ignition interlock device

In Iowa, refusing a blood or a urine test after submitting to a breathalyzer test is also considered a test refusal. Keep in mind that you have to submit to all the test the police officer may request from you. Refusing only one test out of the two is enough for DUI conviction.

DUI Penalties for Underage Drivers in Iowa

Many US states prescribe milder penalties for drivers under 21 years of age, but not Iowa. The Hawkeye State punishes young drivers with the same penalties as the adult drivers. Moreover, young drivers can get a restricted license only after passing of 60 days of the suspension.

However, underage drivers can take advantage of the deferred judgment program for their first offense. The programs require them to:

 
  • Complete a substance abuse evaluation and treatment course for drinking drivers
  • Complete a substance abuse education program
  • Pay the fees associated with all the aspects of the program
  • Report to the probation officer regularly 

If the driver does not get into the deferred judgment program or fails to complete it successfully, he or she will be subject to the same penalties as adult drivers. This includes time in jail, fines, more substance abuse programs and driving license suspension.

If the offender is younger than 18, then the driving license suspension lasts either until the end of the revocation period or until he or she turns 18, whichever is later. In addition, the police officer must notify the parents, guardian, and the school about the offense.

DUI Penalties for Commercial Drivers in Iowa

Commercial drivers in Iowa are under the scrutiny of the same penalties that apply to all other US states. In addition to all the other applicable penalties, they are subject to:

  • 1 year of commercial driving license suspension for the first DUI offense
  • 3 years CDL suspension for the first offense if they drive hazardous materials
  • Permanent revocation of the license for the second offense 

Commercial drivers can be convicted of DUI and lose their CDL even for offenses committed while operating a private vehicle in their free time.

DUI Penalties for Driving with Revoked Driving License in Iowa

Driving while your license is revoked necessarily leads to additional penalties. It is considered a serious misdemeanor and the first time is punishable by a fine of $1000 and impounding of your vehicle.

If you do a second DUI with a revoked license, your vehicle may be seized and forfeited by the state.

If you have lent your vehicle to a driver with a revoked license, you may be liable to compensate the damages incurred as a result of their offense, if any, as long as you knew or had to know about the revocation. 

 

Reinstating Your Iowa Driving License

You can reinstate your Iowa driving license by applying for reinstatement at your local DMV. Their answer will be positive if you submit proof that:

  • You have paid the $200 civil penalty
  • You have completed the substance evaluation and treatment
  • You have completed the driving course for DUI offenders
  • You comply with the ignition interlock device requirements, if applicable
  • You comply with the financial responsibility requirements, if applicable
Additional Iowa resources you may need: