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What is a DUI?

DUI is short for driving under the influence of alcohol. Most people refer to it as drunk driving, but legally, depending on the state, the term is DUI. DUI charges are a possibility when someone operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit. 

BAC is the limit at which someone can safely drive, as long as they are above the legal drinking age. Most states have set their legal BAC at .05 to .08.


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What is a DWI?

Some states use the term DWI for drunk driving. DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated and tends to include both alcohol and drugs. 

Both DUI and DWI charges occur in cases when a person’s BAC is above the legal limit. A breathalyzer or breath test determines the amount of alcohol a person suspected of DWI or DUI has consumed. Drivers also have the option or might be asked to undergo a blood test to determine BAC. Law enforcement might also conduct additional exercises, including asking the driver to walk in a straight line or carry on a coherent conversation.

All of the requests made in a field sobriety test determine a driver’s impairment level and serve as evidence to support a DWI conviction.

What's The Difference Between DUI vs DWI?

Drunk driving laws vary from state to state. In many cases, DUI and DWI are acronyms that are used interchangeably. Some states use DUI, while others use DWI. However, some states use both terms, and DUI and DWI are different crimes.

Most of the time, DUI refers to alcohol, while DWI refers to prescription or recreational drugs and alcohol or drugs only. In other cases, DWI refers to driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, or even an unknown substance. DUI refers to only alcohol.

Anyone concerned with or charged with impaired driving should look up the DUI or DWI laws in their specific state or speak to an attorney.


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A few states use the terms OUI or OWI. Operating Under the Influence is used in Main, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Some specific jurisdictions use Operating While Intoxicated. 

The difference between driving and operating is that operating means you don’t need to be driving the vehicle. In some cases, sitting intoxicated in a parked car that is not running can result in criminal charges of OUI.

Someone in a motor vehicle can face charges any time the arresting officer believes the driver is too impaired to safely operate the vehicle. There are some places where drivers face impaired driving charges, even if their BAC is under the legal limit. 

This might be the case if someone fails a field sobriety test. It’s also true under a zero-tolerance policy for anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 with any alcohol in their system. Someone 20 or younger will be charged with a DWI or DUI if their BAC is anything over 0.00.

Penalties for Intoxicated Driving

Over the years, penalties for any impaired driving, regardless of whether the crime charged is DUI or DWI, have increased. 

A DWI charge is a serious offense. In most cases, anyone pleading guilty or convicted will temporarily lose their driving privileges and face steep fines. DUI charges or a DUI offense can affect all aspects of your life.

Numerous offenses increase penalties even more. Some states impose mandatory jail time for multiple DWI offenses. Others require an ignition interlock device for vehicles owned by people with multiple violations. 

Additionally, even first-time offenders face car insurance increases. Many states also require drivers to undergo evaluations for substance abuse issues. In cases of driver’s license revocation, classes are sometimes mandatory.

Which is worse, DUI or DWI?

In states where the terms are interchangeable, one isn’t worse than the other. However, if a state uses both terms to mean a different charge, the penalties tend to be more severe for one than they are for the other.

For instance, Texas uses both DUI and DWI. DUI applies to drivers under the age of 21, determined to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This charge results in a potential license suspension of 60 days, a fine of up to $500, and mandatory community service and alcohol awareness training.

On the other hand, DWI applies to drivers over the age of 21 found to be driving while intoxicated. Fines can be up to $2000 and include a jail sentence of as long as six months. Additionally, penalties include license suspension up to a year and mandatory participation in an alcohol addiction treatment program.

Because DUI laws vary so much depending on the circumstances and state in which the criminal charges occur, it’s best to contact a defense attorney who can offer guidance and provide legal advice.

Of course, it's best to avoid drinking and driving altogether by having a designated driver plan in place becuase it is too easy to drink too much.

Related posts:


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“PENAL CODE CHAPTER 49. INTOXICATION AND ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE OFFENSES.” Statutes.Capitol.Texas.Gov, statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/PE/htm/PE.49.htm.

Brown, David. “DUI and DWI Overview.” www.Nolo.Com, Nolo, 10 Oct. 2011, www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/dui-dwi-overview-30316.html.

Cavaiola, Alan A., et al. “Characteristics of DUI Recidivists: A 12-Year Follow-up Study of First Time DUI Offenders.” Addictive Behaviors, Pergamon, 28 July 2006, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460306002127.

DG;, Fors SW;Rojek. “The Effect of Victim Impact Panels on DUI/DWI Rearrest Rates: a Twelve-Month Follow-Up.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10463808/.

Nochajski, Thomas H., and Paul R. Stasiewicz. “Relapse to Driving under the Influence (DUI): A Review.” Clinical Psychology Review, Pergamon, 20 Dec. 2005, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027273580500142X.

Raymund E. Narag, Sheila Royo Maxwell. “A Phenomenological Approach to Assessing a DUI/DWI Program - Raymund E. Narag, Sheila Royo Maxwell, Byung Lee, 2013.” SAGE Journals, journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0306624X11431685.

Spiehler, Vina, et al. “CUT-OFF CONCENTRATIONS FOR DRUGS OF ABUSE IN SALIVA FOR ...” Forensic Science, Problems of Forensic Sciences, 16 May 2000, www.forensicscience.pl/pfs/42_spiehler.pdf.

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