All states have their own laws covering impaired driving. The legal limit in every state is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08, but some states have different terms for impaired driving. You’ve probably heard the terms DUI and DWI, but you may be unsure of the exact difference between the two.
DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” and DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” Both terms are very similar, but they have slightly different meanings in some states.
DUI is the most common term used to refer to drunk or impaired driving. The majority of states only use the term DUI or use the terms DUI and DWI interchangeably. Some states only use the term DWI to label impaired driving. In states that only use one term or use both terms interchangeably, DUI and DWI both refer to driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Blood Alcohol Content vs Behavior
Some states have both DUI and DWI laws but apply different definitions to both terms. In a few states, the term DWI is used when your BAC is over the legal limit, and the term DUI is used when you’re charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In other words, DWI refers only to your blood alcohol content, but DUI refers to your behavior.
For example, a man with a high alcohol tolerance drives home after a few drinks. He is rear-ended by another driver, and the police officer smells alcohol on his breath after arriving at the scene. The officer gives the man a field sobriety test, which he passes. Then, the officer gives him a blood alcohol test, which he fails. Even though he passes the field sobriety test and is not at fault for the accident, the man receives a DWI because his BAC is over the legal limit.
In another example, a man drives home after a few drinks and is stopped by a police officer for swerving between lanes. He struggles to walk in a straight line and stand on one foot during the field sobriety test, but his blood alcohol test reveals a BAC of .07. Even though his BAC is under the legal limit, the police officer gives him a DUI because his driving and behavior are impaired by alcohol. With decriminalization of marijuana and cbd oil, many arrests are occuring as a result of driving under the influence.
In states that use this distinction between DUI and DWI, drunk drivers are often given both charges. However, prosecutors usually rely more heavily on DWI charges. Blood alcohol content is more objective proof of intoxication than a field sobriety test, which is up to the judgment of the police officer.
Other Definitions of DWI and DUI
Some states define DWI as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol while DUI only refers to driving under the influence of alcohol. A few states have unique DWI and DUI definitions. For example, in Arkansas, DUI charges are given to those under the age of 21 who drive while impaired, and DWI charges are given to those who are 21 and older. In Maryland, the definitions are reversed. Impaired drivers under the age of 21 receive DWI charges, and impaired drivers who are 21 and older receive DUI charges.
OUI, OWI, and OVI
A few states don’t use the terms DUI or DWI at all. Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island use the term OUI, which stands for “operating under the influence.” This covers more than just driving the vehicle while impaired. In these states, you can be charged with OUI even if your vehicle is not running.
OWI, which stands for “operating while intoxicated” is used in Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Ohio uses the term OVI, which stands for “operating a vehicle while impaired.” All of these charges have similar criteria to DUI and DWI charges.
Penalties for DUI and DWI
Some states consider DWI and DUI to be separate offenses, but DWI is usually more serious. However, the penalties for DWI and DUI are the same in most states. The first offense is a misdemeanor, but you may have to pay thousands of dollars in fines, court costs, and impoundment fees. Your license will likely be suspended, and you may face jail time.
Because different states have different definitions of DUI and DWI, it’s important to research the laws and charges in your own state. If you’ve been charged, you should contact a DUI or DWI lawyer right away to minimize your penalty.