Licensing & State Laws

Iowa’s multi-stage licensing process allows teens to gradually gain exposure to complex driving situations, easing them into driving over an extended period of time. The instruction permit and intermediate stages are key steps.

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, teens 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 or legal guardian. 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., teens 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, passengers age 17 and younger in all seating positions must be properly restrained by a seat belt or child seat. Teens holding a restricted (GDL) license 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.

A parent-teen driving agreement can help you 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.

Visit the Iowa Department of Transportation.

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.

Remind your teen that police can and will enforce all requirements on seat belt use, drinking and driving, and other laws. Breaking the law can lead to fines, license suspension and other penalties.

  • If stopped by the police, teens should present a valid license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
  • Whether stopped as a driver or passenger, teens should always cooperate and be respectful with law enforcement.
  • If in any kind of situation involving law enforcement, teens should talk to their parents about it, because this can create a learning experience.

If your teen gets a ticket or is involved in a crash, it could lead to a court appearance. Judges deal seriously and directly with teen traffic violations. They can assess fines and suspend driving privileges for traffic offenses – even for a first offense, depending on the type of violation.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) violations

Traffic violations related to GDL restrictions can result in fines set by the court and delayed advancement to the next level of licensure.

Operating while intoxicated in Iowa

In Iowa, drivers of any age with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more can be charged with an operating while intoxicated (OWI) violation. Sanctions include:

  • Mandatory jail term ranging from 48 hours up to one year.
  • Payment of a fine of up to $1,250, plus surcharge and court costs.
  • May be subject to a substance abuse awareness program, drinking drivers course or community service.
Under 21 OWI

Drivers under age 21 with a BAC of .02-.08 face these sanctions:

  • Mandatory 60-day driver’s license revocation even for a first OWI event. A driver is not eligible for a restricted license during the term of the suspension.
  • May be subject to a substance abuse awareness program, drinking drivers course or community service.

Iowa underage alcohol purchase, consumption or possession law
A person under the age of 18 who is found guilty of a violation of state law or local ordinance relating to illegal consumption, possession, purchase or receipt of alcohol, regardless of whether a vehicle was involved, faces penalties that can result in the suspension of his or her driving privileges.

Driver, passenger and child passenger seat belt laws

Here’s a summary of the passenger restraint laws in Iowa:

  • Seat belts are required for the driver and all front-seat passengers.
  • Children ages 6 until 18 are required to wear a seat belt or be in a booster seat.
  • Children under age 6 are required to be properly secured in a child restraint system.
  • Infants under age 1 and under 20 pounds must be restrained in a rear-facing child restraint system.

Failure to comply with these laws can result in fines set by the court.

Iowa speed limit laws

Unless otherwise posted, the speed limits on Iowa roadways are as follows:

  • Rural interstates: 70 mph
  • Rural divided four-lane highways with at-grade intersections: 65 mph
  • Urban interstates: 55 mph
  • Other limited access roads: 70 mph
  • Other roads: 55 mph

Violations of Iowa speed limit laws can result in fines set by the court. Speeding violations of 25 mph or more above the limit may result in a license suspension.