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Kevin O'Flaherty

Though there have been no significant changes to Iowa DUI laws for 2024, this article will provide a cursory overview of the OWI laws for Iowa and any updates to Iowa DUI Laws.

What does OWI mean?    

When someone is intoxicated and driving under the influence, various states have used different terms to describe this behavior. Iowa uses the term Operating While Under the Influence (OWI). While Illinois, for example, commonly uses Driving Under the Influence. (DUI).  

Drunk driver getting pulled over by police.

What does an OWI mean in Iowa?

In Iowa, the drinking and driving law is dictated by 321J.2. The law states that a person commits the offense of operating while intoxicated if the person operates a motor vehicle in the state if any of the following conditions are true;  

  • While under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances.  
  • While having an alcohol concentration of.08 or more  
  • While any amount of a controlled substance is present in the person, as measured in the person’s blood or urine.  

Suppose a driver is found guilty of an OWI in Iowa. The law sets out distinctions for the number of offenses you have had. There are mandatory minimums applied in sentencing on OWIs.  

For the first offense:

  • There is a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours up to a year.  
  • There is a fine of a minimum of $625 to $1250.    
  • There will be a license revocation of 180 days up to one year  
  • The length is determined by if the driver submitted to chemical testing and if there are past OWIs  

For the 2nd offense:  

  • There is a minimum jail sentence of 7 days up to two years.  
  • There is a fine of a minimum of $ 1,875 to $6,250.    
  • There will be a license revocation of 1 year up to two year  
  • The length is determined by if the driver submitted to chemical testing    
  • Required to get an Ignition interlock device for one year.  

For the 3rd offense:

  • There is a minimum jail sentence of 30 days up to five years.  
  • There is a fine of a minimum of $ 3125 to $9354.    
  • There will be a license revocation of 6 years  
  • Required to get an Ignition interlock device for one year.  

After at least three OWI 3rd offenses, the driver can be charged as a habitual offender. That enhancement has a minimum of 3 years in prison to a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. This enhancement also makes the driver ineligible for parole until a minimum of three years has been served. Drivers under the age of 21 will have a different set of penalties.

What is an Ignition Interlock Device?  

An Ignition Interlock Device is a device installed into car ignitions to prevent users from being able to start their vehicle if they have consumed any alcohol. The device will have a mouthpiece that will require the driver to blow into it. Once the device is installed, the car’s ignition will not start unless the breath sample given passes.    

How do you get one installed?  

You must use a company approved by the State of Iowa. Those companies currently are:

It would be best if you used an Iowa Department of Transportation certified vendor:

  • Intoxalock  
  • Alcohol Counter Measures Systems  
  • Draeger, Inc.  
  • Smart Start  
  • LifeSafer Interlock, Inc.  

These companies typically charge an installation fee. They don’t allow you to buy the device. Instead, they charge you a rental fee. The companies then typically charge a calibration fee or data retention fees for storing the data the device generates. Some companies additionally charge a removal fee after the court-mandated period. The fees for the ignition interlock can explode, and the requirement to have one is incredibly more burdensome than one would believe.    

How seriously does the Court treat the ignition interlock devices?  

The Courts in Iowa treat the requirement for an ignition interlock device very seriously and have created a new criminal charge if an individual is caught tampering with the device once it is installed. The criminal charge in Iowa is called “Tampering with an Ignition Interlock Device.” It is a serious misdemeanor.  

Bypassing the device could mean things like physical tampering with the device or the tactual providing a breath sample into an ignition interlock device other than the driver it was court-ordered for. For example, having a child or an adult passenger blow into the device than getting into the driver's seat and driving once the car has started.    

The penalty in Iowa for tampering with an ignition interlock device is no more than one year in jail and a potential fine ranging from $315 to $1,000.  

Drunk driver getting put in handcuffs by police officer.

What changes went into effect for OWIs in 2024?    

Although the Iowa OWI laws saw no major changes in 2024, the lingering effects of the 2021 amendments cannot be overlooked. These changes, particularly those related to aggravated misdemeanor charges, have a bearing on the overall outlook of the state’s OWI legislation. One of the key focus areas for the State of Iowa is the ignition interlock device requirements for first-time drunk driving offenders.

First-Time Offender Ignition Interlock Device Requirement

As part of the first offense OWI penalties in Iowa, first-time offenders with a Blood Alcohol Content of .08-.10 are mandated to:

  • Install an ignition interlock device
  • Determine the requirement based on the severity of the DUI offense
  • Schedule an appointment with an approved provider
  • Attend the installation appointment
  • Follow instructions for using the device properly

The costs associated with the device can be as low as $99, but this does not include possible installation fees. Failure to install the device when mandated can lead to drastic consequences including an extension of the IID installation period and supplementary penalties.

License Revocation Elimination with Interlock Installation

Iowa introduced a significant change – the elimination of license revocation if an ignition interlock device is installed for first-time OWI offenders. This provision applies to customers with a second or subsequent OWI offense.

By installing the device on all vehicles, individuals can apply for a temporary restricted license after a certain period of time, thus allowing them to continue driving while their license is revoked. This move has several advantages, such as allowing offenders to maintain employment, meet family responsibilities, and partake in treatment programs.


What is a Temporary Restricted License (TRL), and how to get one?  

It is a way for someone whose license has been suspended, revoked, or barred to still have a way to get to and from work and school.    

To get a driver:    

  • They must pay a $200 civil penalty.  
  • They must provide proof of financial responsibility, typically done by showing they have SR-22.    
  • They will also have to prove that they have installed an ignition interlock device.    
  • When driving, they must keep the TRL letter in the vehicle while operating the vehicle.    

In 2024, no new changes were made to Iowa OWI laws. However, this article did provide an overview of Iowa OWI laws and the one change since 2021. OWI convictions can have a long and profound impact on your life. Regardless of whether this is your first, second, or third charge, the penalties seriously impact your life and finances. If you have any questions regarding Iowa OWI laws, contact one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers at (630) 324-6666.    

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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