Underage DUI in Iowa

The consequences of operating a vehicle while intoxicated for a person under 21 years of age.

In Iowa, driving under the influence (DUI) is generally referred to as “operating while intoxicated” (OWI). Subject to a few exceptions, consumption and possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age is illegal. And a person who’s under the age of 21 who operates a vehicle while intoxicated can be charged with OWI, as well as other crimes and violations.

This article discusses the laws and consequences associated with an OWI offense committed in Iowa by a person under the age of 21.

How Operating While Intoxicated is Defined

Under Iowa’s OWI laws, it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle:

  • with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02% or more
  • while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, or
  • while any amount of a controlled substance is present in the person’s blood or urine.

Administrative Penalties for Underage OWI Offenders

Generally, the Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will administratively revoke the license of any driver who is arrested for OWI and fails or refuses a chemical test. For adults, in most circumstances, a BAC of .08% or more is deemed a failed test. However, under Iowa’s implied consent law, for a driver under the age of 21, a BAC of .02% or more is considered a failed test.

Failed test revocation. The license of a driver who is under the age of 21 will be revoked for 60 days if the driver:

  • submits to a chemical test and the results indicate a BAC of .02% or more but less than .08%, and
  • has had no previous OWI-related revocations.

The revocation will be for 90 days if the underage driver has had a previous OWI-related license revocation.

Refused test revocation. If a person under the age of 21 refuses to submit to a chemical test and has no previous OWI related revocations, the person’s license will be revoked for one year. The revocation is for two years if the minor has had a previous license revocation.

These administrative revocations are superseded by any license revocation that the court might impose as the result of an OWI conviction, as discussed below.

Criminal Penalties for Underage OWI Offenders

Underage OWI offenders are generally subject to the same criminal penalties as adult offenders. However, as discussed below, penalties are typically more severe for drivers who are under 18 years.

Deferred judgment program. For a first OWI offense, in many circumstances, an underage offender will be eligible for the deferred judgment program. Participants must comply with the conditions of the program, which typically include completion of an alcohol education program, payment of fees, and reporting to a probation officer.

Successful completion of the program requirements leads to the OWI charge being dismissed, usually at the end of one year. However, a failure to complete the requirements will result in an automatic OWI conviction.

OWI conviction. A person under 21 years of age who doesn’t participate in the deferred judgment program (or fails to successfully complete the program) will generally face the penalties normally imposed for a first OWI conviction. A first OWI offense is a serious misdemeanor and the judge will typically impose the following penalties:

  • 48 hours to one year in jail
  • $625 to $1,250 fine or unpaid community service
  • driver’s license revocation for 180 days to one year
  • completion of a substance abuse evaluation and the recommended treatment program
  • competition of a course for drinking drivers and, in some cases, a substance abuse prevention program, and
  • probation.

Minimum penalties generally increase for additional OWI convictions.

Drivers Under the Age of 18

OWI offenders who are under the age of 18 and aren’t referred to juvenile court are subject to additional consequences, including notification requirements and license revocation provisions.

Parental and school notification requirements. If a driver under the age of 18 has been charged with OWI, the police officer must make a reasonable attempt to notify the offender’s parents or legal guardian. However, notification isn’t required if the officer believes that notification isn’t in the minor’s best interest or will endanger the minor.

An officer must also make reasonable efforts to notify the superintendent or other authorities in charge at the minor’s school that the minor has been charged with OWI.

License revocation period. If an offender is under the age of 18 and his or her driver’s license has been revoked by the DMV or the court, the revocation continues until the expiration of the revocation period or until the offender turns 18 years, whichever is later.

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