The Difference Between DUI and DWI

DUI and DWI charges tend to, unfortunately, be quite frequent and yet, a lot of people still tend to confuse the two. Even the damage it would do to a driving record can be quite similar.

Be that as it may, there are some key differences between DUI and DWI. Not to mention different penalties that depend on the state in which it happens. That means that the distinction and various rules aren’t always straightforward.

So without further ado, here is everything you need to know about both DUI and DWI and the difference between the two.

Defining DUI and DWI

Basically, a DUI refers to driving under the influence and DWI means driving while intoxicated or impaired.

A DUI charge could mean that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some states make no distinction between DUI and DWI.
However, the ones that recognize them as separate offences DWI generally refers to drivers whose behavior is impaired by alcohol or drugs. When it comes to the types of drugs, they don’t necessarily have to be illegal, even prescription drugs can lead to a criminal charge if the driver is impaired after taking them.

They still sound rather similar, don’t they? True, a lot of it is semantics, the main difference is in the laws of the state where the accident occurs. Different states have different laws, penalties and, yes, even terminology. All of that can be a determining factor in the type of charges that will be filed against the driver.

The distinction in semantics and laws aside, there is something else that is really important and that needs to be mentioned. The statistics concerning these types of offences are astounding. According to some resources, three people are killed in an alcohol-related accident every two hours.
Another unsettling fact is that among the major crimes, DUI and DWI have one of the highest arrest rates that are growing more and more every year.

For that (good) reason, even though they vary, the financial consequences for these charges tend to be quite severe.

Different states, different laws

As previously mentioned, there are rather big distinctions in charges and penalties that vary from state to state. There are no federal laws that distinguish between DUI and DWI, so by that logic, there is no nationwide definition of either violation or a unified penalty system.

Every charge of this sort has some financial and legal consequences, however, the severity of those consequences changes depending on the state in which the offence happened.

Another ramification is mandatory alcohol education and treatment, accompanied by a license suspension. The terms of the suspension depend not only on the state but whether it is your first, second, or third offence.

This could also mean that you could have your vehicle confiscated or at least an ignition interlock device installed.

If you want to know more about these differences and in further detail, you can easily find a full list of penalties for DUI and DWI charges for all the states.

But here are a few states and their attitude toward DUI and DWI:
- New York: both charges can result in fines, license revocation and even jail time
- Texas: is a zero-tolerance state and only minors can be charged with less serious DUI offences
- North Carolina: there is only a DWI charge but it has several levels of severity going from aggravated to level 5
- Virginia: you can get charged even if the vehicle is not in motion
- Missouri: there is an additional charge of DUID (driving under the influence of drugs)
- Colorado: since marijuana is legal, impaired driving laws are specific.

You can also do some additional research depending on which state interest you. One way (and the most effective one) to go about this is to contact a good DUI attorney. An attorney will answer you with any and all questions, as well as assist you with potential charges and by doing so, protect your driver record.


In some places, you can get charged with an OUI or OWI.

Now, before you get confused, let’s explain. An OUI stands for operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor, OWI, on the other hand, means operating while intoxicated. Basically, it is mostly the terminology that differs, not so much the rules.

This somewhat different terminology is currently used in five states:
- Iowa: OWI
- Indiana: OWI
- Maine: OUI
- Michigan: OWI
- Massachusetts: OUI

Are insurance rates impacted?

The short answer is yes, when you get a DUI or a DWI your insurance rates will go up, that is inevitable. However, let’s explain it further.

Just how much the insurance rates will increase will depend on your chosen insurance carrier. Most often it will double or triple in price in comparison to the initial price. That, for a lot of people, is quite a significant amount of money.

In some cases, you can even be dropped from your policy entirely.

Depending on the state’s requirement you might have to obtain an SR-22 certificate. It is a form of financial responsibility that proves that you met the state’s current car insurance requirements and that you will continue to do so for a certain period of time, usually three years.
This certificate is mostly required when drivers are looking to reinstate their driver's license after it’s been suspended due to a DUI or a DWI.

Additional questions

Will I do jail time for DUI or DWI?

This, again, depends on the state in which you are living or being charged. State laws vary and while in some states you would not receive any jail time, in others such as Vermont for example, you could get up to two years in jail.

For how long do DUI and DWI charges stay on the record?

Once more, it can vary from state to state. In most places, it tends to stay on your record for three to five years. However, in some states that have stricter laws, for example, California, this type of offence can stay on your driving record for up to ten years.

What is the legal blood-alcohol limit?

The federal legal limit for BAC (blood-alcohol content) is 0.08%. However, there are some variations here as well. In Utah, a driver can get charged if their BAC is over 0.05% while in some states the penalty additionally increases if the BAC is higher than 0.15%.

Also, if you are under 21 years of age, you will face serious penalties even if you have a BAC of 0.01%. This is something that is the same no matter which state you are in.

What happens after I fail a breathalyzer test?

If you fail a breathalyzer test, you will, most likely, be charged with a DUI or DWI. Even if you pass a breathalyzer test, but manage to fail a field sobriety test, you can, of course, still be charged.

In conclusion

Hopefully, you will never have to find out about the differences between DUI and DWI through your own experience.

So don’t forget - Safety first! Keep yourself and others safe on the road by never getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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Posted - 04/26/2022