Iowa uses a graduated license system to advance unlicensed drivers from an instruction permit to an intermediate license, and, finally, to a valid driver's license.
As early as 14 years old, teens can apply for an instruction permit in Iowa. The applicant must pass the vision test as well as a test covering local traffic signs and traffic laws. The parent or guardian of the applicant must also sign a written consent.
In Iowa, all public schools provide an approved driver's education course consisting of both classroom and driving instruction. Parents can generally instruct in lieu of a driver's education course but must still follow the curriculum and get approval from the Department of Transportation (DOT).
An instruction permit is valid for four years and permits the teen to drive only when accompanied by a licensed relative age 21 or older or a licensed driving instructor. A non-relative licensed driver age 21 or older can supervise the teen if holding written parental consent. The number of passengers cannot exceed the number of seatbelts, and the driver may not use a cellular device while operating the vehicle.
Teens who are 16 to 18 years old who have held an instructional permit for at least 12 months are eligible to apply for an intermediate license. The applicant must have completed driver's education and be free of any traffic violations for the six months preceding the application. A supervising driver must also certify that the applicant has completed 20 hours of driving, including two nighttime hours. And the teens must pass a driving test at the DOT or an approved driver's education instruction school.
Generally, the intermediate license allows the motorist to drive without an adult:
Teens with an immediate license can't have more passengers than seatbelts and aren't allowed to use a cellular device while driving.
Violation of any restrictions during the permit or intermediate license phase may result in remediation or suspension. Remediation prohibits the teen from obtaining the next-level license until he or she completes a remedial driver improvement action course. Completion of the course restarts the six- and 12-month clock for prior traffic violations. A second offense violation will result in a 30-day suspension.
After holding an intermediate license for at least 12 months, a driver who is at least 17 years old can apply for a full driver's license. The applicant must show completion of ten hours of supervised driving, including two hours at night. Again, to be eligible for the non-restricted license, the driver cannot have any traffic violations within the prior 12 months.
Iowa also provides special licenses for those with certain hardships.
School license. A school license permits the holder to drive to and from school between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. without supervision and carry one unrelated minor passenger. The school must certify that it will not be held liable and that a need exists for the teen to hold the school license. To be eligible, applicants must take a driver's education course, be at least 14 years old, and hold an instruction permit for at least six months without a violation.
Restricted license. Teens who have dropped out of public school and are at least 16 years old can apply for a special restricted license that permits driving to and from work and daycare for a dependent.
Before any driver can lawfully operate a vehicle in Iowa, the vehicle must be properly insured. In Iowa, the mandatory insurance requirements include at least $20,000 bodily injury per person, $40,000 bodily injury per accident, and $15,000 property damage per accident.
Failure to have valid insurance is a traffic violation that generally results in a $250 fine or equivalent community service. The officer is permitted to immediately impound the vehicle and seize the license plate and registration. The registration and license plate will not be returned until valid proof of insurance is shown.