Most first-time drivers in Iowa must complete a drivers ed course to learn how to drive safely. This step is required by the Iowa Department of Transportation (IA DOT) to obtain a driving permit or a drivers license. Fortunately, it’s not difficult going through one of these courses, and there are plenty available to choose from.
Steps to Getting Your Iowa License
If you’re looking to get your Iowa drivers license, we’re here to help. Welcome to our step-by-step guide to get you off of your couch and out onto the road. We know you have a lot of questions, so let’s get going.
It doesn’t matter how old you are; getting your first license can be an exciting, scary, and confusing time, sometimes all at the same time. First off, let’s clear up some Iowa DOT terms. In some cases, it seems they’ve gone out of their way to make it confusing.
Terms (and abbreviations) you should know:
- Driver Education—A.K.A. “drivers ed.” A state-approved course that will cover driving law and basic driving skills.
- Instruction Permit—A.K.A. “Learners Permit” or “Driving Permit.” This permit will allow you to practice drive legally before applying for your license.
- Class C License—The license you’re shooting for, allowing you to drive any vehicle besides a motorcycle or commercial vehicle.
- Written Test—A.K.A. “Knowledge” or “Permit” Test, it’s the one you’ll have to pass to get a permit.
- Drive Test—A.K.A. “Road Skills Test” or just plain ‘ol “Driving Test,” it’s the one you’ll have to pass to get your license.
- Intermediate License—A.K.A. “Graduated Drivers License.” A “Class C” with some restrictions.
See? I told you they made it confusing!
Who Must Take Iowa Drivers Ed?
No matter your age, it’s probably not a bad idea for anyone to take a drivers ed course before getting their first license. However, Iowa only requires drivers ed for driving candidates younger than 18. However, you can enroll in drivers ed at age 14.
The Path to an Iowa License in a Nutshell
The quick and dirty looks like this:
- Get a learner’s permit
- Take drivers ed
- Complete a total of 30 hours of practice driving
- Pass a road skills test
Now let’s take a look at what it’ll take to get those four steps done.
Step 1—Getting Your Permit
If you are 14, you can apply for your instruction permit. To get it, you will have to pass both a vision and a written test. You can take the written test one of three ways:
- At your local drivers license station
- At your school or other third-party location so you can “Skip the Trip”
- Online at home
Before you can take the test at home, your parent will need to complete and submit an Application to Proctor Knowledge Exam form. Upon approval of the application, the parent and student will receive an email with instructions for taking and administering the test. The link sent in the email will expire after 72 hours. The test must be taken on a computer, not a phone or tablet.
Application for a permit will happen at your local licensing office. You’ll need to make an appointment online to submit your application.
When you arrive, be sure to have the following:
- Parent’s/Guardian’s Written Consent Form (form 430018)
- Proof of Identity
- Proof of Residency
- Proof of Social Security number
Check out the DOT list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring.
- You’ll also need to bring
- Your eyeballs (for a vision test)
- Check, cash, or credit card to pay your application fee.
Now it’s time for your written permit test
The test will include questions about:
- Driving laws and their penalties
- Various kinds of driving skills, such as turning, signaling, lane changing, and parking
- Differences between highway driving and city driving, including speed limits
- Procedures to be used in accidents or emergencies
- Distinguishing various signs and their meaning based on color and shape
- Meanings of pavement markings on both highways and streets
To pass the 35-question multiple-choice test, you’ll need to score 80%. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare.
To give yourself a leg up on passing the permit test, you might want to consider one (or more) of the following:
- Study the Iowa Drivers Manual
- Take a driver prep course, a great way to get you ready for your license. (Learn more)
- Quiz yourself with an Iowa permit practice test
A permit practice test has everything the “real” test does, except the pressure. That’s because practice tests feature questions taken from actual DMV exams. It’s like seeing all the answers before the test even begins! Don’t head to the DMV without a dress rehearsal, you want to pass the first time.
What If Your Test Didn’t Go Like You Planned?
What if you get to the testing center and, despite all your best preparation, your nerves get the best of you, and you wind up failing the test? First, don’t panic. Nearly 1 out of 3 test-takers fail on their first attempt.
If you do happen to fail, the DMV will give you more chances, but there are some rules.
- You will have to wait until at least the next day for another attempt
- You may be subject to an additional fee
Another Note—If you’re new to Iowa and started this whole license dance somewhere else, here are some tips that might help.
What You Can Do with Your Permit
Your new permit will allow you to drive at any time with adult supervision. The adult can be 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. The supervising adult must possess a valid driver’s license.
While using your permit, you can’t:
- Use a cell phone, smartphone, tablet, or other electronic communication or entertainment device while driving.
- Carry more passengers than the number of seat belts in your vehicle, even when driving with adult supervision
- Drive a commercial motor vehicle, a motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 16,001 or more pounds, or a motorcycle (unless you already have a motorcycle license).
Step 2—Take Drivers Ed
An Iowa drivers ed course consists of:
- 30 hours of classroom training
- Six hours of behind the wheel training
- At least four hours of alcohol and drug awareness material
The classroom portion teaches topics like:
- Iowa traffic laws
- Meanings of road signs, signals, and markings
- Your responsibilities as a licensed driver
- Alcohol safety and drug abuse awareness
- Motor vehicle operation fundamentals
- Driving in hazardous situations
- Driving in emergency situations
If you (or your folks) prefer a traditional driving school experience, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.
At the end of your course, you will receive a certificate of completion. Hold on to it! You’ll need it when you apply for your license.
Speaking of Licenses…
Once you have completed drivers ed, you can apply for your intermediate license once you turn 16. You can also apply for what is known as a “Minor School License.” To qualify, you must:
- Be at least 14 1/2 years old
- Hold an instruction permit and a clean driving record for at least six consecutive months
- Live 1 mile or more from the school you are enrolled in unless a special need exists or you live or work on a farm in Iowa. If you have more than one residence, where you live is the location you reside the majority of the time.
- If you are a student at a public or private school student, you must have your school superintendent, principal, or school board chair AND your parent or guardian sign an Affidavit for School License (form 430021)
- You may be required to complete a drive test at the driver’s license issuance site, if your driver’s education instructor requires it, or if you completed the Parent-Taught Driver’s Education Program (eligible homeschooled teens only).
Once the form is completed, schedule an appointment to bring in the completed form and get your minor school license issued.
Step 3—Complete 20 Hours of Practice Driving
Now it’s time to put that learners permit to good use, and you are required to use it for twelve months before you can apply for your license.
Before you can take a driving test, you’ll have to complete 20 hours of practice driving, and at least two of those will need to happen between sunset and sunrise.
While you might be nervous at first, do your best to enjoy this time and always pay close attention to what’s going on around you. You never know the kinds of things, good and bad, that you might learn from the drivers around you. Take time to learn all you can from the licensed driver who is with you.
Also, do yourself the favor of driving in as many conditions as you can, places like:
- On the highway
- In neighborhoods
- On winding or hilly roads
- In downtown areas
- In bad weather
It’s better if you don’t see these things for the first time on your own.
Since you’ll be using your permit for a year, there’s no reason not to drive WAY more than 20 hours! It can only do you good.
Step 4—Pass a Driving Test
Finally, the last hurdle, your driving test. It’s all good. You got this.
You must be 16 years old to apply for an intermediate license. You must also have:
- Held a valid instruction permit for at least 12 months
- No at-fault crashes in the second six months
- No moving violation convictions in the second six months
- No alcohol or drug convictions of any kind in the second six months
You must schedule an appointment with the DOT for a driving test and to make license application.
Of course, you’ll need a vehicle to take the test in. The vehicle must:
- Be insured
- Be properly registered
- Be able to pass a visual safety inspection
During the test, you will be observed (and graded) on your ability to:
- Back the vehicle in a straight line
- Parallel park
- Approach intersections
- Turn the vehicle
- Stop in regular traffic conditions
- Control the vehicle
- Observe traffic
- Use signals
- Maintain vehicle position while turning, stopping, etc
Using Your Intermediate License
Per the Iowa Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Program rules, an intermediate license comes with some restrictions concerning when you can drive and who you can have in the car with you.
You can’t drive state-wide from 12:30.AM. to 5 A.M. except when driving to or from work or school. Driving to work or school will require completing a Waiver of Intermediate Driver’s License Hour Restriction form (form 431170). Once it is approved, you’ll need to keep it with you whenever you drive.
If the back of your license says you have a passenger restriction, you cannot carry more than one minor passenger that is not a relative when driving without adult supervision for the first six months you have your intermediate license. A relative means your brother, sister, step-brother, step-sister, or another minor living in your household.
Once you turn 17, have completed 10 additional hours of supervised driving, and have held your intermediate license for 12 months, you can apply for a full license. These requirements will be waived when you turn 18.
A Final Note
Any licensed driver will tell you that you will never face a driving situation as complicated, nerve-wracking, and time-consuming as getting your license. By no means should you let your guard down once you’re behind the wheel but, rest assured. You’ll never face anything on the road that will compare with the process it took to get you your license.
Good luck as you work your way through this. Can’t wait to see you out on the road!
A Final Final Note
If you’ve made it this far, may we suggest you bookmark this page? You’ll probably be coming back to it often as you work your way through this!
A Few More Helpful Items from the Iowa DOT
For Applicants Born Outside the U.S.
Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240)
Certificate of Naturalization (N-550)
Certificate of Citizenship (N-560)
Permanent Resident Card (I-551). If the card is expired, you must also present a Notice of Action (I-797) showing an approved extension. The old pink version of the I-551, called the “Resident Alien Card,” that contains no expiration date is also acceptable.
Valid, unexpired foreign passport with an I-94 stamped “Processed for I-551.”
Unexpired Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
Valid, unexpired Foreign Passport with an unexpired U.S. Visa and an I-94 form. If the I-94 is expired, you must also present a Notice of Action (I-797) showing an approved extension.