OWI vs DUI: Iowa’s Drunk Driving Laws

Many people assume that when you are arrested for drunk driving you always receive a DUI, or Driving Under the Influence. However, that is not the case in every state. In fact, when you’re arrested for drunk driving in Iowa, you’ll be charged with an OWI (Operating While Intoxicated), not DUI.

Though both charges are very similar, there are a few key differences between OWI’s and DUI’s. Here is what you need to know about an OWI vs DUI to better understand Iowa’s drunk driving laws.

Operating vs Driving

By using the term “operating” rather than “driving,” Iowa’s drunk driving laws are more all-encompassing. Iowa law defines operating as “driving or being in physical control of the motor vehicle.”¹ This means you don’t have to be driving to be charged with Operating While Intoxicated. If the engine is running and you are behind the wheel while intoxicated, or in control of the vehicle with its engine running, you can be charged with an OWI. So if you do not want to get an OWI, do not turn on the engine!

Any Motorized Vehicle

Other issues: Any motorized vehicle can qualify. The law does not simply apply to cars, motorcycles, or mopeds. If it has a motor, and moves with wheels, and you are in control of it, the law can apply. That can include motorized bicycles, lawnmowers which you ride, and farm equipment that has wheels and moves with your inputs.


The OWI laws apply anywhere, not just on public streets or highways. This includes private property.

Under the Influence vs Intoxicated

The definition of what qualifies as being “under the influence” or “intoxicated” varies from state to state. In Iowa, you will be considered intoxicated if you drive:

  • Under the influence of alcohol, other drugs, or a combination of such substances.
  • With an alcohol concentration of .08 or more.
  • While any amount of a controlled substance is present in your body as measured by blood or urine. If you used illegal drugs a week or two ago, but it still is present in your body, and you take a urine test and come back positive for that drug, you can be found guilty of OWI.
  • There is a prescription drug defense, but you should speak with a lawyer to see if you qualify. Usually mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can disqualify you from the defense, or be used as an argument to invalidate the defense. If you do not use your prescription drugs as advised, or overuse, that can invalidate the defense. If your doctor advised you not to drive while using said prescription drugs, the defense does not apply.

What to Do if You Get an OWI

If you’ve been charged with an OWI, the first thing you should do is contact a criminal defense attorney to review your case and help you get back on the road. Request a free consultation with Adam Pollack to get the defense you deserve!

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