Iowa uses a multi-stage licensing process for teens. This system allows teens to gradually gain exposure to complex driving situations, easing them into driving over an extended period of time.
Instruction Permit – 14
After turning 14, your teen may apply for an instruction permit. A parent or legal guardian must sign the application. Upon passing a vision and knowledge test, your teen will be issued an instruction permit.
With an instruction permit, your child must complete 30 hours of classroom instruction, plus six hours behind-the-wheel instruction from an accredited driver education school. Your teen must then log a minimum of 20 hours of supervised practice driving, including two hours at night, accompanied by a licensed parent, legal guardian or immediate family member over age 21. Until your teen is fully licensed, the number of passengers is limited to the number of seat belts in the vehicle.
After turning 14 years 6 months, teen drivers who have driven under an instruction permit for at least six months may apply for a minor school license (MSL). An MSL allows a holder to drive unsupervised to and from school and select school-related activities between the hours of 5 a.m. – 10 p.m. Applicants must live at least one mile from school and submit an application signed by an authorized school official and a parent or guardian.
Intermediate License – 16
When your teen turns 16 and has driven conviction-free on an instruction permit for at least six months, your teen may apply for an intermediate license. You or a legal guardian must first certify that your teen has completed the minimum requirements for practice driving. Then, upon presenting proof of driver education course completion and passing a road test, your teen will be issued an intermediate license.
A teen with an intermediate license may drive alone; however, between the hours of 12:30 a.m. – 5 a.m., your child may only drive under the supervision of a licensed parent, guardian, immediate family member over age 21, or designated driver age 25 or older. Exceptions apply for driving between home, work and school. Your child must also log an additional 10 hours of supervised driving, including two hours at night, accompanied by a licensed parent, guardian, immediate family member over age 21, or designated driver age 25 or older. Teens are not allowed to have more than one non-family passenger in the vehicle under age 18 for the first six months, unless this restriction is waived by a parent.
Full License – 17
After turning 17, your teen may apply for a full license as long as the teen has driven conviction-free for at least 12 months. A parent or guardian must sign the application and certify that the applicant has completed the minimum requirements for practice driving.
In all instances, teen drivers and their front-seat passengers must wear seat belts. Additionally, teens under the age of 17 are prohibited from using a cell phone or any type of wireless communication device whether hands-free or hand-held while driving except for calling 911 or other emergency purposes. Iowa law prohibits drivers of any age from composing or sending text messages or emails while operating a vehicle.
Consider using a parent-teen driving agreement to help enforce licensing rules that the state and your family set. An agreement helps you and your teen understand the rules of the road and sends a clear message that driving is an earned privilege that your family takes seriously.
The Iowa Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is in charge of licensing for all drivers in Iowa. All written exams and behind-the-wheel tests required for a driver’s license can be performed at any Iowa Driver’s License Station. Please check in advance for locations, hours, fees, plus acceptable forms of identification your teen will need to present when applying for each stage of licensing. Study materials to help your teen get ready for the exams are also available.