Iowa OWI Classes: What You Need to Know

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According to estimates from the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, 85 Iowa drivers with alcohol in their systems were involved in fatal car accidents in 2018. In a legal area that often struggles with repeat offenses, the state's operating while intoxicated (OWI) classes put the focus on rehabilitation in hopes of lowering that statistic for future generations of Iowans. OWI is an offense known as driving under the influence(DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) in many other states.

Any drinking driver course not approved by the state Department of Public Health will not satisfy OWI penalty requirements. In most circumstances, any kind of online class is not acceptable for this purpose, though emergency situations may make for some rare exceptions.

When Are OWI Classes Required?

As Spellman Law, P.C. of West Des Moines points out, there is no shortage of penalties for OWI offenses in the Hawkeye state, from driver's license suspensions to the required installation of an ignition interlock device (IID). From first offenders to repeat violators, charges range from misdemeanors to felonies and come with fines ranging from $625 up to $9,375, and between 48 hours in jail to five years of incarceration.

Across the board, however, all OWI offenders in Iowa must complete educational courses designed for drinking drivers. As legislated in Iowa Code Section 321J.17, it's mandatory for any driver who fails a sobriety test or refuses to take one to complete a drinking and driving course. Some drivers may also be ordered to undergo a substance abuse evaluation or even receive substance abuse treatment alongside the OWI classes.

On the subject of sobriety tests, Iowa OWI ate law considers a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more above the legal limit for noncommercial drivers aged 21 or over, with lower limits for commercial drivers and those under 21.

OWI Classes: What Counts?

Under Iowa law, OWI offenders who have had their driver's licenses revoked will need to complete court-ordered treatment recommendations or evaluations, and OWI courses before having their licenses reinstated. But not just any OWI class will cut if for this purpose.

The Iowa Department of Education (DoE) notes that the OWI class must be conducted by a provider certified by the Iowa Department of Public Health (DPH) in order to satisfy OWI penalty requirements. As of 2020, the DoE reports that these providers include:

  • A1 Addiction Recovery Center (Adel).
  • Addictions Recovery Centers (Harlan).
  • Alcohol & Drug Dependency Services (Burlington, Keokuk, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, Wapello).
  • Area Substance Abuse Council (Anamosa, Belle Plaine, Davenport, DeWitt, Maquoketa).
  • Assessment Services, Inc. (Des Moines).
  • Barclay & Associates, PC (Ames).
  • Cedar Valley Recovery Service (Marion).
  • Center for Interpersonal Effectiveness (Ankeny, Newton).
  • Community and Family Resources (Clarion, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Rockwell City, Webster City).
  • Compass Pointe (Estherville, Hull, Rock Rapids, Sheldon, Spencer).
  • Creative Consulting & Intervention Services (Ames).
  • Integrated Counseling Practice (Sioux City).
  • Jackson Recovery Centers (Cherokee, Denison, Le Mars).
  • Laura Stoner, M.S., PLMHP, NCC (Omaha).
  • Lifeline Recovery Resources, LLC (Fort Dodge, Greenfield, Indianola, Lamoni, Mason City, Osceola, Sioux County,

Storm Lake, Stuart, Waterloo). Manning Family Recovery Center (Manning). MECCA Services (Iowa City). New Life Outpatient Center (Davenport). New Opportunities, Inc. (Sac City). Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health Center (Cresco, Decorah). Pathways Behavioral Services (Fredericksburg, Independence, Waverly). Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services (Algona, Charles City, Forest City). Shade of the Tree (Spirit Lake). SIEDA Substance Abuse Services (Albia, Audubon, Bloomfield, Centerville, Fairfield, Keosauqua, Leon, Manchester, Oskaloosa, Sigourney). Substance Abuse Services for Clayton County, Inc. (Elkader). Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa (Eldora, Grinnell, Toledo). The Richmond Center (Boone). * Zion Recovery Services, Inc. (Atlantic, Clarinda, Emmetsburg, Greenfield, Red Oak).

Read More:​ Third Offense OWI in Iowa: Laws, Penalties & More

OWI Classes: What Doesn't Qualify?

With so many online and offline providers offering driving under the influence classes, OWI classes and all manner of other educational resources for drinking drivers – both the commercial and nonprofit variety – it can be tricky to figure out what sorts of courses the state of Iowa won't honor. So what doesn't count?

Here's a simple breakdown: Any drinking driver course not approved by the state Department of Public Health will not satisfy OWI penalty requirements. In most circumstances, any kind of online class is not acceptable for this purpose, though emergency situations may make for some rare exceptions. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Iowa flexed the rules to accept online drinking driver education courses – but only through MyPrime, a service of the Iowa Department of Education.

While attending victim impact panels (sessions in which victims of a crime express the personal and community impact of the action to offenders) or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings may be helpful on personal levels, these programs are not the equivalent of state-approved OWI classes. OWI offenders will not satisfy their court-imposed penalties with programs not specifically certified by the Iowa DPH.

What Do OWI Classes Entail?

Official Iowa-approved OWI classes take a total of 12 hours to complete in a classroom setting and are administered by trained substance abuse professionals. This format is known as the Prime for Life curriculum, which is typically broken up across two weekends. Straight from the Iowa Code Section 321J.17, this curriculum encourages the offender to assess their drinking and driving behavior in order to select practical alternatives.

In some cases, the OWI offender may be allowed to roll required jail time and the drinking driver courses together into a single program known as the 48-hour weekend program. According to the Iowa DoE, this usually occurs at a local hotel under house arrest.

People who do not reside in Iowa but who have been charged with an OWI offense in the state, or those who simply wish to take their OWI classes in another state, may complete their drinking driver education courses outside of Iowa. When an out-of-state course is taken for an OWI that occurred in Iowa, the course must be at least eight hours in length. Once the course is completed, attendees complete and submit an Out-Of-State OWI Documentation Form along with a $37.50 administrative fee, as of 2020.

On the Road to License Reinstatement

Iowa OWI classes aren't exactly a one-and-done affair. Those charged with operating while intoxicated need to check a few more boxes before getting back on the road. For starters, there's the matter of cost since attendees are expected to pay for the classes. As of 2020, the cost for a state-approved, 12-hour OWI class is $180. If the court recommends a jail diversion program, substance abuse evaluation or substance abuse treatment as part of the OWI penalty, there will be additional fees.

Along with the costs of the course, offenders are also required to pay civil penalties (usually $200, per the Iowa DoE) and cover driver's license reinstatement fees before getting back behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. For more information on OWI courses in Iowa, the state's DoE recommends calling at 515-725-2014, dropping a line at or stopping by in person at 400 East 14th Street in Des Moines.