Iowa New Resident Guide

Welcome to Iowa! As a new driver to this state you will need to be aware of our unique traffic laws and regulations. Here's what you need to keep in mind while driving in Iowa. Some of these rules may be the same as what you're already used to, but others will be drastically different!

Licensing and Residency Requirements

  • Licensees must notify the MVD of changes of address within 30 days.
  • The registration fee for a vehicle from another state or country becomes due in the month that the vehicle is sold or transferred to an Iowa resident or the month that a non-resident owner establishes Iowa residency or accepts employment of 90 days' duration or longer.
  • The owner of the vehicle must inform the county treasurer of the county where the vehicle is registered of a change of address, change of name, or change of fuel type within 10 days.

Graduated Licensing Program

Learner's Permit


  • Must be 14 or older;
  • Must have parental consent;
  • Must pass vision and written test;

Privileges and Restrictions

  • May only drive under supervision of your parent, guardian, custodian, an immediate family member at least 21 years of age, a driver education instructor, or a person at least 25 years with written permission from your parent, guardian, or custodian.
  • Persons who were convicted of a moving violation or involved in a contributive traffic crash while holding an instruction permit or intermediate license are subject to a remedial driver improvement action or suspension of the permit or intermediate license.
  • May not use a cell phone, smartphone, tablet, or other electronic communication or entertainment device while driving. This doesn't apply to equipment permanently installed in your vehicle.
  • May not carry more passengers than the number of seatbelts in your vehicle, even when driving with adult supervision.

Minor School License (optional)


  • Must be 14 and a 1/2;
  • Must have completed driver education;
  • Must have held instruction permit with a clean driving record for at least six consecutive months;
  • Must live one mile or more from the school you are enrolled in;
  • Must have school official and your parent guardian permission;
  • May be required to take drive test;

Privileges and Restrictions

  • May drive without supervision from home to school, school sponsored activities, or closest school bus stop using the most direct route, within your school district.
  • Other permit restrictions still apply.

Intermediate License


  • Must be 16;
  • Must have held permit for at least 12 months;
  • Must have completed driver education;
  • Must have completed at least 20 hours of driving practice, 2 of which must be at night;
  • Must have passed written and driving tests;
  • Must be free of moving violations and not be involved in a crash for 6 months.

Privileges and Restrictions

  • Intermediate license holders may not drive unsupervised between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.
  • For the first 6 months of licensure, intermediate license holders may not drive with more than one unrelated passenger under age 18, unless waived by a parent or guardian.
  • Teens must also accumulate an additional 10 (2 at night) hours of parental/guardian supervised driving in the intermediate stage.

Unrestricted License


  • At 17, teens who have met all conditions of the intermediate license and have written approval of parent or guardian may obtain a full license.
  • At age 18, you may obtain a full license without meeting graduated licensing requirements.

Violation Point Counts

The amount of points that go against your driver's license for specific types of violations.

6 Point Violations

  • Manslaughter resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle.

5 Point Violations

  • Serious injury caused by the operation of a motor vehicle;
  • Eluding or attempting to elude law enforcement;
  • Failure to stop and leave information or render aid at an accident site;
  • Any offense punishable as a felony under motor vehicle laws, or any felony in which a motor vehicle was used.

4 Point Violations

  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol or a drug or having an alcohol concentration of .08 or more;
  • Driving while barred.

3 Point Violations

  • Driving while under an alcohol or drug related revocation.

2 Point Violations

  • Driving while under suspension, revocation, or denial;
  • Perjury or making a false statement under oath to the Department of Public Safety.

How Long Points Stay on Record

Your driving record will show all convictions, accidents, or suspensions during at least the last five years. A license revocation for OWI will remain on your record for 12 years.

Iowa uses points to determine whether a driver is a "habitual offender" and to determine how long driving privileges may be barred for.

  • 6 - 7 points - 2 years barred.
  • 8 - 9 points - 3 years barred.
  • 10 - 12 points - 4 years barred.
  • 13 - 15 points - 5 years barred.
  • 16+ points - 6 years barred.

You may also be considered a habitual offender if you are convicted of six or more moving violations within two years. If the six moving violations include speeding, the speeds must be at least 15 mph over the legal speed limit. This may result in you being barred from operating a vehicle for one year.

Insurance Requirements

  • Iowa does not have a compulsory insurance law. Instead, the Financial and Safety Responsibility Act protects you from the financially unsound and reckless driver. It does this by:
    • Suspending the operating and registration privileges of a driver or owner who has not been able to show immediate financial responsibility following an accident; and
    • By requiring anyone whose driver's license has been suspended or revoked because of a conviction, unsatisfied judgment or violation of the OWI law to prove financial responsibility for any future damages or injuries that driver may cause.
  • After an accident, if you cause personal injury or damage exceeding $1,500 to the other party, you must next prove your financial responsibility. Otherwise, your license will be suspended. You can prove financial responsibility in one of these ways:
    • Show that you are covered by automobile liability insurance at the time of the accident.
    • Post cash, cashier's check, certified check, bank draft or postal money order payable to the Office of Driver Services.
    • Get releases from all other damaged or injured parties.
    • Obtain a decision resulting from a civil damage action relieving you of all liability.
    • File an agreement to pay the other damaged or injured parties on an installment plan.
    • Execute a warrant for confession of judgment which includes an agreement upon payment schedule.
    • File evidence of a complete settlement of all damages or injuries.

Headlight Laws

You must dim your headlights from high to low beam when you are within 1,000 feet of an oncoming vehicle or within 400 feet of a vehicle traveling ahead of you.

You must use your headlights:

  • From sunset to sunrise;
  • Whenever visibility is 500 feet or less;
  • If you turn on your wipers.

There is no specific law allowing or prohibiting headlight flashing.

Implied Consent Laws

  • First Refusal - 1 year (90 days mandatory).
  • Subsequent Refusal - 2 years (1 year mandatory).
  • If a defendant is under 18, the period of revocation shall be either as indicated or until the person reaches 18 whichever is the longer revocation period.

DUI Penalties

First Offense (Serious Misdemeanor)

  • 48 hours - 1 year imprisonment;
  • $1,250 fine OR community service;
  • 30 days - 180 days license revocation;
  • Alcohol education;
  • Alcohol treatment if referred.

Second Offense (Aggravated Misdemeanor)

  • 7 days - 2 years imprisonment;
  • $1,975 - $6,250 fine;
  • 1 year - 2 years license revocation;
  • Alcohol education;
  • Alcohol treatment if referred.

Third and Each Subsequent Offense (Class D felony)

  • 30 days - 5 years imprisonment;
  • $3,125 - $9,375 fine;
  • 1 - 6 years license revocation;
  • Alcohol education;
  • Alcohol treatment if referred.

Ignition Interlock

  • Required for temporary restricted license;
  • If second or subsequent offender, required for 1 year after license reinstatement.

Open Container Law

The Open Container Law prohibits possession of an open alcoholic beverage container in the passenger area of any motor vehicle, by any occupant of the vehicle, on any public highway or right of way, whether or not the vehicle is in motion.

Red Light Violation Fines

  • Iowa does not have a state law governing the use of traffic cameras for red light enforcement.
  • $195 fine ("Violation of stop signal")

Construction Zone Penalties

Speeding violations are subject to an enhanced fine up to $1,000. All other moving vehicle violations are subject to two times the original fine. Enhancements apply whether or not workers are present.

Turn Signal Information

If the speed limit is 45 MPH or less, signal your intention to turn or change lanes at least 100 feet in advance. If the speed limit is above 45 MPH, signal at least 300 feet in advance.

Hazard Light Information

Hazard light use is permitted for the purpose of indicating a mechanical failure, or an emergency stop.

Funeral Procession Right-of-Way Laws

  • Funeral procession lead vehicles must have flashing emergency lights, lit headlights, and identifying flags. All vehicles in the procession must keep headlights lit and drive close together.
  • Other vehicles, except emergency vehicles, must yield the right-of-way to the procession.
  • Drivers of vehicles in the procession cannot be charged with violating traffic rules and regulations with regard to traffic devices and signals, unless operating the vehicle recklessly.

School Bus Laws


  • Vehicles are required to stop unless traveling in the opposite direction upon a highway with 2 or more lanes in each direction.
  • When you meet an oncoming school bus displaying flashing amber lights, you must slow down to no more than 20 mph and be prepared to stop. If the red lights are flashing or if the stop arm is out, you must come to a complete stop at least 15 feet from the bus.


  • Failure to stop and remain stopped when required will result in a $100 fine.

Bicyclist Passing Distance

There is no specific law regarding minimum safe passing distance.

Motorcycle Laws


  • Class M driver's or Endorsement L licenses are issued for the operation of a motorcycle.
  • Applicants under the age of 18 for a motorcycle driver's license must successfully complete a motorcycle education course.

Protective Gear

  • Helmets and eye protection are not required.


  • Daytime use of headlight is required by state law for model years 1977 or later.

Sharing the Road

  • Lane splitting is not authorized.
  • Two motorcycles may travel side-by-side in a single lane.

Using the Shoulder to Pass

You may not drive off the roadway to pass on the right.

Passing Laws

Do Not Pass:

  • When approaching or upon a hill or curve where your view is obstructed for 700 feet;
  • When approaching within 100 feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing;
  • When approaching within 100 feet of any narrow bridge, viaduct, or tunnel, when so signposted.

When Being Passed:

  • Give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle;
  • Do not increase the speed of your vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

Speed Limits

  • 70 mph on interstate highways.
  • 65 mph on other controlled-access, multilane highways.
  • 55 mph on other highways or on surfaced secondary roads.
  • 45 mph in suburban districts.
  • 45 mph on roads under the control of the State Board of Regents.
  • 35 mph on State parks and preserve roads.
  • 25 mph in a residence or school district.
  • 20 mph in a business district.

Safety Belt and Child Safety Seat Laws

Safety Belts

  • Occupants 18 years and older in the front seat must wear safety belts.
  • Police may stop vehicles solely for belt law violations.
  • The fine for a first offense is $25.

Child Seats

  • Children younger than 1 year and less than 20 pounds must be in a rear facing child seat
  • Children 1 - 5 years must be in a child seat
  • Children 6 - 17 years must be restrained, and may use an adult safety belt
  • Police may stop vehicles solely for child seat law violations.
  • The fine for a first offense is $25.

Emergency Vehicle Laws

Move Over

  • When you see any of these vehicles displaying flashing lights while stopped on or adjacent to the roadway:
    • Emergency vehicle;
    • Towing or recovery vehicle;
    • Utility, municipal, or highway maintenance vehicle.
  • You must do the following:
    • Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the authorized emergency vehicle if possible in the existing safety and traffic conditions.
    • If a lane change would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be less than the posted speed limit, and be prepared to stop.


  • Do not follow a fire apparatus traveling in response to a fire alarm closer than 500 feet, or drive into or park within the block where the fire apparatus has stopped in answer to a fire alarm.

Collision Procedures

  • Stop at the scene or as close as possible without obstructing traffic more than necessary, and remain at the scene until all requirements are fulfilled.
  • Call police immediately if necessary
    • If the accident has resulted in injury or death, notify the nearest police department immediately. If the driver is unable to make the report, any other occupant of the vehicle who is able to must do so.
    • If the accident has resulted in death, a surviving driver must immediately report the accident to law enforcement authorities. If it is necessary to leave the scene to make this report, the surviving driver must leave their driver's license, registration receipt, or other identification data at the scene, and must immediately return to the scene.
  • You must provide the following information to any other person involved in the accident, or any police officer at the scene of the crash:
    • Driver's name and address.
    • Vehicle registration number.
  • Provide assistance to any injured person, including transporting them or making arrangements for transportation to a hospital or doctor, if necessary or requested.
  • Report crash
    • If the crash resulted in injury, death, or property damage of $1,500 or more, you must report the accident to the police within 72 hours. This is not required if the accident is investigated by a law enforcement agency.
    • If the driver is physically incapable of making an immediate or a written report of the crash, any other occupant of the vehicle who is capable of making a report must do so.
  • Unattended vehicle or property
    • If you have collided with a vehicle that is unattended, locate and notify the operator or owner of the driver's name and address and the owner's name and address. If you are unable to do so, leave a written notice providing this information and a statement of the circumstances.
    • If you have collided with other unattended property on or adjacent to a highway, locate and notify the owner of the driver's name and address, the vehicle registration number, and show your driver's license if requested.