OWI Laws in Iowa

Learn about Iowa's drunk driving laws and the some of the consequences of a conviction.

In Iowa, you can get an "OWI" (operating a vehicle while intoxicated), sometimes called a "DUI" (driving under the influence), for driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher or have any illegal drugs in your system, regardless of whether your driving ability was actually impaired. However, you can also get an OWI if you operate a vehicle while “under the influence” of alcohol, drugs, or any combination of the two. You’re considered “under the influence” of alcohol and/or drugs if your judgment is impaired, your emotions are visibly excited, or to any extent, you’ve lost control of your bodily actions or motions.

(For an estimate of how many drinks it takes to get to the legal limit, check out our BAC chart or BAC calculator.)

"Operating a vehicle" is defined as being in “the immediate, actual physical control of a motor vehicle that is in motion and/or has its engine running,” so it's possible to get an OWI without actually driving.

The law in Iowa says that if you’re driving a vehicle, you’ve given consent to submit to a chemical test for the purpose of determining the amount of alcohol in your blood. Here are some details on the consequences of refusing to take a chemical test in Iowa and other details about Iowa OWI law.

In Iowa, what are the consequences of refusing to take a chemical test (usually a breathalyzer or blood test) when suspected of OWI?

Here are the consequences for not taking a breathalyzer or blood test in Iowa, broken out by whether this is your first, second, or third offense:

1st offense

2nd offense

3rd offense

1-year license revocation

2-year license revocation

2-year license revocation

In Iowa, when do police have to measure your BAC?

In Iowa, law enforcement officers are supposed to measure your BAC within two hours of when you were driving. However, prosecutors may be able to prove your culpability for an OWI even if your BAC is taken later than this time.

What is the maximum BAC for drivers under 21 in Iowa?

In Iowa, the maximum BAC for drivers who are under 21 (considered minors under some drinking and driving laws) is .02%. A first offense results in a 60-day license suspension. For a second offense, your license will be suspended for 90 days.

What are the minimum jail times for an OWI in Iowa?

Here are the minimum jail times for an OWI in Iowa, broken out by whether this is your first, second, or third offense:

1st offense

2nd offense

3rd offense

2 days jail

7 days jail

30 days jail

How long will prior OWI convictions remain relevant for sentencing purposes in Iowa?

In Iowa, prior OWI convictions stay on your record (and can be counted against you when you are being sentenced for another OWI offense) for 12 years.

Can an OWI be “pleaded down” to a "wet reckless" in Iowa?

In Iowa, it’s possible for a driver who’s charged with operating while intoxicated to “plea bargain” for a lesser charge. When an OWI is plea bargained down to a reckless driving charge, it’s sometimes called a “wet reckless.”

(Find out more about plea bargaining in Iowa OWI cases and the consequences of a reckless driving conviction.)

Are ignition interlock devices (IIDs) required for convicted OWI offenders in Iowa?

No, but for a driver whose license has been suspended, installing an IID is a requirement for getting a restricted license under the following circumstances: the driver's BAC was .10% or higher, or the driver has at least one prior OWI conviction or OWI-related license suspension.

Where can I get more information about OWI/DWI laws in Iowa?

Nolo's DUI/DWI topic has many helpful articles, including a Drunk Driving, DUI, and DWI FAQ. For more help after an OWI arrest, see Nolo's Lawyer Directory, where you can view in-depth profiles of Iowa OWI attorneys in your area.

Last updated on 02/19/2016.

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