What's the Difference Between a DWI vs. DUI?

What's the Difference Between a DWI vs. DUI?

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DWI and DUI are different terms for drunk driving charges. In many states, they are used interchangeably to describe the same act of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

However, in states such as Texas, Maryland and Arkansas, DWI and DUI denote different levels of impaired driving, one often more serious than the other. A trio of midwestern states use the term OWI. New York has both DWI and DWAI, driving while ability impaired.

What do DWI and DUI mean?

DWI and DUI are both terms for the crime of drunk driving. They also refer to driving under the influence of other drugs.

  • DWI means driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired.
  • DUI means driving under the influence.

Whether you are impaired enough to warrant a DUI or DWI charge is typically determined by your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). States are allowed to set their own standards, but in most of the country, you will be charged with a DUI for a BAC greater than 0.08. If you are caught driving with that level of alcohol in your system, you will almost assuredly be arrested and face a range of punishments from fines to jail time.

In some cases, you do not have to be driving a car to get a DUI or DWI. Authorities also do not always have to prove a 0.08 BAC in all cases. A few situations that can lead to a DUI or DWI:

  • Being intoxicated behind the wheel of a parked vehicle or one that isn't on.
  • Operating a boat or bicycle while intoxicated.
  • Showing signs of impairment, even if your BAC is less than 0.08.

DWI vs. DUI: What is the difference?

The difference between a DUI and DWI varies by state. In 38 states, there is only one charge for drunk driving, although the charge can have different names depending on the jurisdiction. Colloquially, the terms DUI and DWI are often used interchangeably.

Nine states make notable distinctions between the meaning of the two terms. Most often, a DUI refers to driving over the 0.08 legal alcohol limit, while DWI includes levels of impairment that are less measurable and may carry less harsh punishments. However, that is not always the case.

One state makes a mostly minor distinction between DWI and DUI. Two other states use a different term to describe two levels of charges.

Which states have different DUI and DWI laws?

In the nine states with notable differences in how DUIs and DWIs are treated, a few elements play into which one an intoxicated driver may face. In most cases, age or being close to the 0.08 limit are key factors.

State

DUI
DWI
Greater penalties?
ArizonaImpairment must be shown, but BAC can be lower than 0.08Driving with a BAC above 0.08The same
ArkansasDrivers under age 21 with BAC between 0.2 and 0.08Driving with a BAC above 0.08DWI
MarylandDriving with a BAC above 0.08Driving with a BAC between 0.07 and 0.08, showing signs of impairmentDUI
MinnesotaOnly impairment must be shownDriving with a BAC above 0.08The same
OklahomaDriving with a BAC above 0.08BAC of 0.06 or 0.07, must prove impairmentDUI
Rhode IslandDriving with a BAC above 0.08For a driver under age 21, a civil offenseDUI
TennesseeDriving with a BAC above 0.08A lesser charge for those under age 21, though drivers ages 18 to 20 can get DUIsDUI
TexasFor drivers under age 21 with any alcohol in their systemDriving with a BAC above 0.08DWI
UtahDriving with a BAC above 0.05; driving impaired, but not over the limitNot a standalone charge, usually part of a pleaDUI
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a map showing which states differentiate between DWI and DUI

New Jersey makes a more minor distinction. In New Jersey, DWI is used to describe impairment by alcohol, while DUI refers to driving under the influence of drugs. The potential punishments are the same for both.

OWI and DWAI

Although DWI and DUI are the most common terms used for driving while impaired, they are not the only ones.

In Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Louisiana, drunk driving is called OWI, operating while intoxicated. There is no difference between OWI and DUI.

Oregon laws refer to drunk driving as DUII, driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Hawaii officially refers to drunk driving in all forms as OVUII, operating a vehicle under the influence of intoxicants.

New York and Colorado use the terms DWI and DUI respectively, but each state has another charge called DWAI, driving while ability impaired. Each state has a different definition of DWAI.

Colorado's DWAI charge is for driving with a BAC below the 0.08 limit, but higher than 0.05. A DWAI in Colorado will not trigger a license suspension, but a DUI will.

In New York, DWI means driving with more than the 0.08 limit. The state has three different types of DWAI.

  • DWAI/Alcohol: BAC between 0.05 and 0.07, or other evidence of impairment.
  • DWAI/Drugs: Driving ability impaired by a drug other than alcohol.
  • DWAI/Combination: Driving ability impaired by a mix of drugs and alcohol.

Consequences for DWI and DUI

If you are charged with a DUI or DWI, you may face a range of potential punishments. These not only can vary between states, but also based on whether you have prior convictions. You will most likely be arrested, and then could face:

  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • License suspension
  • Community service
  • Points on your driving record

The first offense carries a minimum of at least one day in jail in 24 states. In states where there is a difference between DUI and DWI, DUI usually carries a stiffer penalty.

A DUI/DWI will raise your insurance rates significantly. You will also typically need to get an SR-22 filed by your insurer in order to drive legally again.

Ben Breiner is a senior writer at ValuePenguin specializing in auto insurance. He spent ten years in newspapers and has a degree in economics and journalism from the University of Wisconsin.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.