What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

No Matter What It Is Called, It's Going to Be Expensive

Police officer taking sobriety test of man
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DUI is an acronym for driving under the influence. DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or in some cases driving while impaired.

In some cases, depending on state law, the two terms are both used to describe impaired or drunken driving. Some state laws refer to the offense of drunken driving as DUI and others call it DWI.

However, in states where both terms are used, DWI sometimes refers to driving while intoxicated of alcohol, while DUI is used when the driver is charged with being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In other states where both terms are used, DWI means driving while impaired (by drugs, alcohol or some unknown substance), while DUI mean driving under the influence of alcohol.


There are other acronyms for drunk driving in other states. OUI, for operating under the influence, is used in only three states, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The "operating" distinction encompasses more than just driving the vehicle. Even if the vehicle is stopped and not running, someone can be charged with operating under the influence.

OWI is an acronym for operating while intoxicated used in some jurisdictions.

Driving While Impaired

Both charges mean the arresting officer has reason to believe the driver is too impaired to continue to drive. In some jurisdictions, drivers can be charged with impaired driving (or driving under the influence) even if they do not meet the blood alcohol concentration levels for legal intoxication.

For example, if you fail a field sobriety test or otherwise show signs of impairment, you can be charged with driving while impaired even if your blood-alcohol concentration is under the legal limit of 0.08.

Drugged Driving Is Impaired Driving

If you appear to be impaired to the arresting officer, but your breathalyzer test shows that you are not under the influence of alcohol, in all 50 states now the officer can call a Drug Recognition Expert to the scene to determine if you are under the influence drugs.

If the DRE officer's multi-step evaluation process determines that you are indeed under the influence of drugs, you can be charged with DWI or DUI (depending on what the state you are in calls the offense of drugged driving.

Drunk Driving Is a Serious Offense

No matter what the offense is called in your jurisdiction—DUI or DWI—if you are arrested for drunk driving, driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated you will be facing serious consequences.

If you are convicted or plead guilty of drunk driving you will probably lose your driver's license, pay fines and court fees, and if it's a second offense you may spend some time in jail. You will probably be placed on probation, perform community service, and to get your driver's license back you will probably have to attend defensive driving classes.

In most states, you will also probably undergo an evaluation of your drinking patterns and based on the results of that evaluation, you may have to take part in an alcohol treatment program. That program could range from attending a few Alcoholics Anonymous or other support-group meetings to entering a residential treatment facility.

Time Consuming and Expensive Ordeal

When you do get your driver's license back, you will find that you will also need SR-22 insurance, which could double or triple your premiums, depending on the laws in your state.

You will have to pay the higher premiums for probably three years.

Also, depending on the state in which you reside, you may have to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle, which will require you to pay for the device, the installation, and a monthly monitoring fee.

The bottom line is getting arrested for driving under the influence is a time-consuming and very expensive ordeal, but it is 100% avoidable. Just don't get behind the wheel while you are drinking.

More About Drunk Driving

Why You Should Never Drink Any Amount and Drive
Research shows that drinking alcohol impairs driving skills long before the driver reaches the legal blood-alcohol level of 0.08.

Should You Refuse a Breathalyzer?
In most jurisdictions, refusing to submit to a breath test is itself an offense carrying its own penalties on top of a DUI or DWI charge.

Do You Need a Drunk Driving Attorney?
If money is no issue, fine, but if your BAC was recorded over 0.08 you may be wasting money to hire an attorney.

How Does a DUI Conviction Affect Your Insurance?
Everyone with a drunken driving conviction is required to purchase special insurance if they want to continue to operate a vehicle.

Does a DUI Arrest Mean Forced Alcohol Treatment?
If you want to have your driving privileges returned, in most states, you will need to go through an evaluation process prior to attending educational classes.

Can You Have a DUI Conviction Expunged?
Depending on the state in which you were convicted, there may be steps you can take to clean up your driving record.

How Does Court-Ordered A.A. Work?
If you find yourself facing court-mandated attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous ( A.A.) meetings, you probably have questions about what is going to happen next.

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