DUI vs. DWI: What’s The Difference?
Michelle Wilson - November 1, 2023
When comparing state-specific legal definitions, the distinctions between Driving Under the Influence (a DUI) and Driving While Impaired (DWI) hold several major differences. In contrast, the federal government says the two offenses are nearly the same. Therefore, if you find yourself at the end of either offense, the question remains: what is the difference?
According to online data, the main difference is that the acronym DUI stands for “driving under the influence” of alcohol or drugs, while DWI encompasses a broader range of impaired driving offenses.
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In the United States, the severity of a DUI or DWI charge can vary significantly from state to state. While DWI typically implies a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher and is generally considered the more serious offense, in some states, the situation is a bit different. One of these states is Maryland, where a background check shows drunk driving accidents account for over 32% of the state’s traffic fatalities and resulting in nearly 200 deaths per year according to online data.
Alongside the nature of the offense, you could make a comparison between their penalties. However, for both a DUI and DWI, such as a first offense without injuries, deaths, or aggravating circumstances such as a misdemeanor, the consequences will be similar.
When facing either a DUI or DWI charge, the potential penalties you may encounter can differ significantly, depending on your state and any prior convictions. Typically, the process involves an initial arrest, followed by the possibility of jail time, fines, license suspension, community service and points on your driving record, which can result in a higher insurance cost or license suspension in the future. To put it into perspective, online data from one study shows that a DUI or DWI can raise your car insurance rate by an average of 80%. State Farm, one of the country’s insurance providers, has quoted the cheapest full-coverage car insurance for someone with a DUI as being $2,180 for the year.
It’s important to note that the severity of these consequences may differ from state to state, with some states imposing a minimum of at least one day in jail for a first offense. In states where a distinction exists between DUI and DWI, DUI charges typically entail more severe penalties.
Nine U.S. states have distinct DUI and DWI laws, with specific criteria determining which offense an intoxicated driver may face. These criteria often revolve around factors such as age and blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Notable states include Arizona, where a driver must demonstrate impairment, but the BAC limit can be lower than 0.08; Arkansas, which designates DWI for drivers under 21 with a BAC anywhere from 0.02 to 0.08, while DUI applies for BAC at or above 0.08. Other states like Minnesota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah also have their own distinctions between DUI and DWI, with variations based on age and BAC levels.
Your driving history is pivotal in determining your car insurance rates, and having a DUI or DWI on your record will impact the price you pay. In some cases, insurers may even cancel your policy, while in the best scenarios, you should brace yourself for substantially increased premiums. The reason is simple: once you have such an offense on your record, insurers perceive you as a higher risk, which means a higher cost to receive coverage.
A DUI or DWI conviction may necessitate filing an SR-22 form with your DMV in certain situations. This document, known as a “certificate of financial responsibility,” demonstrates that your car insurance coverage complies with your state’s DMV requirements. It’s essential to understand that an SR-22 isn’t an insurance policy but rather a validation that you possess the necessary coverage as a high-risk driver.
In addition to DUI and DWI, there exist numerous acronyms related to impaired driving, each reflecting dangerous behavior behind the wheel. It’s crucial to note that a driver can face charges even if their blood alcohol content (BAC) falls below the state’s legal limit, particularly if they fail a test of their motor skills, balance and/or coordination. Here are some of the more common acronyms associated with impaired driving:
This charge arises when a driver’s BAC falls between 0.05% and 0.07% in states like New York and Colorado. Alternatively, it may involve impairment by THC (Colorado).
Used instead of a DWI, DUAC is applied when a driver’s BAC equals or exceeds 0.08%.
Often used interchangeably with DUI in states like Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Recognized in states including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.
This designation applies to any substance impairing a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle, as seen in Michigan.
Regardless of the specific acronym employed, any of these charges will significantly impact your driving record and make obtaining affordable insurance challenging.
If you receive a DUI charge, you will invariably have to appear in court, at least for your arraignment. While pleading guilty or no contest may spare you further court visits, it’s still a possibility. Consulting with an attorney post-arrest is advisable, as they can help you navigate your plea and potentially work towards reducing your charges.
In most cases, a DUI results in a license suspension, and the duration and steps to regain your driving privileges can vary depending on your specific circumstances. Often, your license can be suspended upon the charge itself, and refusing to undergo blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tests can also lead to suspension.
While the confiscation of a vehicle due to a DUI is rare and typically involves repeated offenses, some states, like North Carolina, have DUI forfeiture laws in place. These laws come into effect when an impaired driver either has a prior DUI-related license suspension or lacks a valid license and insurance. More commonly, courts may opt for vehicle impoundment or order forfeiture, though such measures are infrequent.
In addition to the fear of dealing with the consequences of a DUI or DWI, keep in mind that drunk-driving crashes cost 37 people their lives in the United States each day, according to online data, or one person every 39 minutes. Similarly, public data in another study shows that in 2021, drunk drivers killed 13,384 people, a double-digit increase from the previous year. Therefore, doing your part and avoiding DUI and DWI charges is something not only you but also your community will benefit from.