Iowa DUI Laws (Everything You Should Know)

Iowa DUI Laws

So you’ve had a couple of drinks tonight — no big deal, right?

However, if you’re getting behind the wheel, any amount of alcohol in your system is ALWAYS a big deal.

Imagine operating a motorized vehicle without being in the best driving condition. You’re not just putting yourself in danger — you’re also risking the lives of other motorists sharing the road with you.

Not only that, but Iowa has strict DUI laws. If you’re caught, get ready to face severe penalties. 

Now, to help you avoid drunk driving, let’s look at all the Iowa DUI laws, the penalties, and everything else you should know. 

So shall we? 

DUI Laws in Iowa

Iowa DUI Laws (Everything You Should Know)

Before we begin, it’s important to note that Iowa refers to DUI as OWI (operating while intoxicated). But for this article, we’ll refer to it mostly as DUI. 

That out of the way, let’s look at Iowa’s DUI laws, as well as other laws relating to DUI. 

Illegal BAC Levels

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) shows how much alcohol you have in your bloodstream. The more drinks you consume, the higher it becomes.

In Iowa, a BAC level of 0.08% makes you legally drunk. It means you will be charged with DUI if caught driving with these BAC levels. 

You typically reach this level after having around 3 to 4 drinks. By this time, you may experience short-term memory loss and have difficulty concentrating and controlling your vehicle. Impaired perception makes getting into an accident more likely, too. 

Also, Iowa has a Zero Tolerance Law for drivers under 21. This time, a BAC level of 0.02% is enough for a DUI charge. You shouldn’t drive if you’ve had 1 or 2 drinks.

Implied Consent Law

Iowa also has an implied consent law. 

If a police officer has reason to think you are driving under influence, they can pull you over and undergo a BAC level test. 

Now, under the Implied Consent Law, you MUST submit to these tests. 

Once you get a driver’s license, you agree to undergo breath, urine, or blood tests to confirm your BAC levels. 

Remember, this law doesn’t only apply to Iowa residents. Even if you live in another state but have driving privileges in Iowa, you must comply with the tests if you’re behind the wheel.

Failing the test (which means your BAC level is above allowable limits) has consequences. But refusing to take the test earns you penalties, too (which we will discuss below).

Drugs and Driving Laws

Iowa’s DUI laws don’t only apply to alcohol. Using drugs that affect your driving ability also opens you to a DUI charge — and we don’t just mean illegal drugs either. 

You can get drugs in different places — some are over-the-counter, while others are filled-out prescriptions from your doctor. You can acquire them illegally, too.

Regardless of your source, these drugs bring 3 potentially dangerous effects (besides their primary purpose of healing you):

  • Uppers, like amphetamines, speed up your body. It wakes up your system, making you feel more alert and confident. Unfortunately, you’re more likely to take risks after taking them.
  • Barbiturates are examples of downers. These have the opposite effects of uppers, and people suffering from extreme anxiety and other emotional distress usually take them. However, downers affect alertness, coordination, and sight. You’re also less likely to react to a situation within an appropriate timeframe.
  • Lastly, there are hallucinogens, which include PCP, marijuana, and LSD. They affect the way you perceive your surroundings and put you in an altered mood. They also impair reaction time and judgment.

So make sure to avoid these drugs while driving. If not, you could put everyone in danger… or get caught and have to face the penalties. 

Open Container Law

Another law closely related to DUI is the Open Container Law. 

In Iowa, you can’t have any open alcoholic beverages in a moving vehicle. And this doesn’t only apply to whoever’s driving — passengers can’t have one either.

If you have an open container, you must place it in the trunk of your vehicle. Remember, it can’t be in any area you or your passengers can easily access. These include the glove compartment, the center console, or the floor of the back seats.

DUI Penalties in Iowa

As we mentioned, the penalties for committing a DUI are severe. Our guide features 3 tables, showing the consequences of the following:

  • When you refuse to take a BAC test
  • When drivers 21 and above have a BAC of 0.08% or higher
  • When drivers younger than 21 have a BAC of 0.02% or higher

Penalties for Refusing a Breath, Urine, or Blood Test

Under the Implied Consent Law, refusing these tests always leads to license revocation. Now, the duration lengthens depending on how many times it’s happened:

Penalty1st Offense2nd Offense3rd Offense
License Revocation1 year2 years2 years

Penalties for a BAC of 0.08% and higher (Drivers 21 and Older)

OffenseFinesJail TimeLicense RevocationInstallation of Ignition Interlock Device
1st$625 to $1,2502 days to 1 year180 days to 1 yearWithin the validity of a temporary restrictive license
2nd$1,875 to $6,2507 days to 2 years1 to 2 years1 year (any length of time a TRL is granted will be subtracted)
3rd$3,125 to $9,37530 days to 5 years6 years1 year (any length of time a TRL is granted will be subtracted)

Penalties for a BAC of 0.02% and higher (Drivers Under 21)

OffenseFinesJail TimeLicense Revocation
1st and subsequent:$625 to $1,2502 days to 1 year180 days to 1 year

If you think these look familiar, you’re right. Penalties for underage drivers are the same as for first-time adult offenders. However, it includes undergoing substance abuse evaluation besides these.

You also need to complete whatever treatment program the state recommends as a result.


To help you understand more about DUI in Iowa, let’s go over some of the most frequently asked questions. 

What is the Difference Between DUI and OWI?

A DUI requires you to be driving the vehicle for a charge to stick. In Iowa, you only need to be behind the wheel for an officer to charge you with an OWI. It still applies if you’re intoxicated and in the driver’s seat with the motor running.

Iowa’s law uses operating, which means “driving or being in physical control over the motor vehicle”. The wording makes it more encompassing compared to a DUI.

Also, an OWI charge applies to any motorized vehicle, not just cars or motorcycles. These may include motorized bicycles, farm equipment, or even lawnmowers you ride.

Lastly, you can be charged with an OWI even if you are on your property. Iowa’s law doesn’t only apply when you’re on highways or public streets.

Is an OWI a Felony in Iowa?

OWI charges in Iowa are usually misdemeanors. However, there are several situations when it becomes a felony.

These include the following:

  • It’s your third OWI charge. 
  • You caused severe injury to someone while driving intoxicated. It becomes a Class D felony, and, if convicted, you can go to jail for up to 5 years and pay $1,025 to $10,245 in fines. You’ll also lose driving privileges for 6 years.
  • You caused injury to a minor while driving intoxicated. You may have to serve up to 10 years in jail and pay $1,375 to $13,660 in fines. It’s a Class C felony if the minor is severely injured and a Class D felony if only mildly injured.
  • Driving while intoxicated resulted in a fatality. This is a Class B felony and is considered vehicular manslaughter. If you’re convicted, it’s 25 years in jail — 50 years if the victim was a minor.

How Long is an OWI on Your Record in Iowa?

It’s best to avoid an OWI conviction at all costs. One reason is that it stays on your driving record for 12 years. This means it’ll affect potential employment and car insurance premiums for that long.

How Do You Beat an OWI in Iowa? 

Given how long an OWI conviction stays on your record and, of course, all the penalties, it’s best to deal with it before it gets to that point.

Consider these points if you want to beat an OWI charge in Iowa:

  • Identify any flaws the arresting officer made
  • Establish legal doubt on any presented evidence
  • Find a lawyer who has extensive experience with OWI cases

You can focus on inaccurate results from tests that they used to determine your BAC level. If your intoxication was due to drugs and these were prescribed by your doctor, it would be best to let your legal team know.

Can I Get an OWI Expunged in Iowa?

You may receive an expungement if the judge handling your case defers judgment, you’ve paid the money you owe in fines, or you completed your probation requirements.

However, Iowa’s new law states that you can’t have an OWI misdemeanor expunged. The law took effect last July 1, 2019.

The Wrap Up

An OWI is no laughing matter — the consequences are grave and may affect your personal and professional life. 

Remember, once is bad enough — being a repeat offender comes with higher penalties. And if you reach the third offense, it becomes a felony.

So when you’ve had a couple of drinks, think about it before getting behind the wheel. Is it worth it?

It never is. 


Always be a safe and responsible driver.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *