Your First-Time Iowa Drivers License Guide

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: July 6, 2021

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:

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:

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:

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:

Check out the DOT list of acceptable documents to see exactly what you should bring.

Now it’s time for your written permit test

The test will include questions about:

To pass the 35-question multiple-choice test, you’ll need to score 80%. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare.

How to Pass the Permit Test

To give yourself a leg up on passing the permit test, you might want to consider one (or more) of the following:

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.

Fail Your Permit Test? You’re Not Alone

If you do happen to fail, the DMV will give you more chances, but there are some rules.

How to Retake Your Permit Test

Another Note—If you’re new to Iowa and started this whole license dance somewhere else, here are some tips that might help.

I Just Got My Permit and Now We’re Moving?!?

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:

Step 2—Take Drivers Ed

An Iowa drivers ed course consists of:

The classroom portion teaches topics like:

The classroom portion of Iowa drivers ed can be completed at an approved driving school or your high school. You can also fulfill your drivers ed requirement with Iowa’s Parent-Taught program.

If you (or your folks) prefer a traditional driving school experience, check out our guide to selecting the best driving school.

How to Choose the Best Driving School for Your Teen

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:

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:

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:

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:

During the test, you will be observed (and graded) on your ability to:

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.

TIME:

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.

PASSENGERS:

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

Application to Proctor Knowledge Exam

Parent’s/Guardian’s Written Consent Form

List of Acceptable Identification Documents

Iowa Drivers Manual

Affidavit for School License

Waiver of Intermediate Driver’s License Hour Restriction

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.