DUI VS. DWI; What’s the Difference?

DUI means driving under the influence while DWI stands for driving while intoxicated (or driving while impaired in some parts of the U.S.) The terms can have different meanings or refer to the same offense, depending on the state. In either situation it means that a driver is being charged with a serious offense that put not only their own life in danger, but also the health and safety of others.

If you live in a jurisdiction that classifies them separately, DUI is the lesser charge, as it denotes a lesser degree of impairment than a DWI. The level of impairment is determined by the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest. In some states that use both terms, one can apply to alcohol and the other to impairment by drugs or other unknown substances – and these terms can mean the exact opposite in other states.

In Texas, for example, DUI refers to a minor who was caught drinking and driving, while an adult would be charged with a DWI. Some states, like New Jersey, have a zero tolerance policy for drunk driving do not make a distinction between a DUI and DWI.

Regardless of the term, the crime consists of two elements:

  1. Operating a vehicle in some capacity. In some states you can be charged with either of these offenses if found in the car with the engine turned off and the keys in your pocket. Other states require operating the vehicle on a public roadway.
  2. Under the influence of an intoxicating beverage or drug, or with a BAC level that exceeds the legal limit – 0.08% in all states or 0.01% for those under the age of 21 in many states. The “under the influence” requirement differs by state. In California, for example, the state must prove you were impaired to a degree that you couldn’t drive with the same caution or care as a sober person under the circumstances. In Colorado, however, the prosecutor only needs to prove you were impaired to the slightest degree.

In places where both offenses are recognized, you can reduce a DWI to a DUI in order to lower the penalties. In order to do this, the court will ask two questions:

  • Is this the first DUI offense? – A first offense will usually be met with less severe punishment than a repeat offender.
  • How high was the BAC level? – Many states are willing to reduce the charge if your BAC was barely over the legal limit. However, if it was significantly high, you won’t be able to reduce the charge.

If you were arrested for drunk driving, driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated, you can expect to face serious consequences. A conviction or guilty please may result in the loss of your driver’s license and fines. Second-time offenders are likely to get some jail time, be placed on probation, and assigned to community service. If you are arrested, contact 1-800-THE-LAW2 for a free consultation with an experienced attorney. He or she can help you through the entire process.

After you have been penalized, there are still residual effects of the charge. For example, when you do get your license back, you will need SR-22 insurance that could amount to double or triple the standard rate.

Getting arrested for a DWI or DUI is a serious offense, but it is 100% avoidable. Do not drink and drive. If you plan to drink, plan ahead on alternate ways to get home safely.