DUI vs. DWI: Both Are Bad News!

By Ben Hartwig
13 August, 2018

These two acronyms are often confused because they are very similar but what does each mean and what are the differences?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence and DWI means Driving While Impaired or Intoxicated.

Both are illegal and punishable by law. Some states use the terms interchangeably, but there may also be differences in the punitive measures and connotation that varies depending on where in the U.S. you are caught.

Which is Worse a DUI or DWI?

In many states, a DWI is considered worse because the BAC is scientific evidence that a person got behind the wheel with a specific amount of alcohol in their system. In these jurisdictions, you will be punished with a lesser charge on a DUI than a DWI.

However, this is not a general rule, and other states consider them to be the same in severity so therefore the sanctions will be identical for both offenses.

There are other terms that states use to categorize different substance-related offenses they are:

  • DWAI – means “driving while ability impaired” and in Colorado, if your BAC is .05 or more you will be arrested.
  • OUI and OWI – “operating under the influence” and “operating while intoxicated” are pretty much the same thing as DUI and DWI.
  • OMVI – Ohio uses this term exclusively and has done away with the terms DUI and DWI.
  • DWI – “driving while impaired” not to be confused with DWI “driving while intoxicated.” Some states use this to charge you even if your BAC is below .08.
  • Aggravated DUI – this charge carries some severe penalties because it involves drunk driving with kids in the car, with a suspended license, speeding or your BAC comes back .15 or higher.
  • Felony DUI – courts may charge you with a felony DUI if this is a repeat offense or you hurt or kill someone while drunk driving.

What Are the Differences?

The terms although similar are different when applied to the law. DUI typically involves behavior that indicates driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. DWI refers to having a BAC (blood alcohol content level) of 0.08 or higher.

A person may pass a field sobriety test with flying colors only to have their blood tested and found to have a BAC of .08 or higher then they get charged with a DWI. In other cases, people may fail the sobriety test or show indications of very erratic behavior then have a BAC of less than .08 but still may get slapped with a DUI.

What Is the Punishment for Each?

All states have strict laws prohibiting driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The specifics of each punishment may vary in severity by state, but generally, the following will occur.

  • Suspended License – with both a DUI and a DWI you will typically lose your driver’s license for a period. When arrested, your license will be taken away, and even if you are not convicted, you may still lose it for 30 days. If this is a repeat offense, then the suspension may be a year or more.
  • Prison – half of all U.S. states require mandatory jail time for a first offense, typically at least a day and even up to a week, hence leading to an arrest record. For additional offenses, the jail time may be more intense.
  • Fines – most states impose fines with drunk driving offenses of at least $500 and even up to a few thousand to get your license back.
  • Ignition Interlock Device – quite a few states require that drivers convicted of drunk driving have a device attached to their car’s ignition system that tests their BAC before the vehicle will start. Results of the Breathalyzer tests are sent automatically to law enforcement.
  • Drunk School – As an additional requirement many states mandate that you attend a few weeks at DUI education classes. You must attend all the classes and have your instructor sign off so that you can bring the paperwork to the court proving your attendance.

DUI and DWI Stats

DUI and DWI produce some bleak statistics because many alcohol and drug-related accidents result in injury or death on America’s roadways.

  • In 2013 alone, more than 28.7 million people admitted that they drove while intoxicated.
  • 1 million people admitted to driving while under the influence of recreational drugs.
  • Recreational drugs are the cause of 18% of motor vehicle accident deaths in America.
  • $132 billion is the price tag for drunk driving expenses in the U.S.
  • Three times as many males are involved in drunk driving offenses than women.
  • One in every three people will be involved in a DUI/DWI related accident in their lifetime.
  • 28 people die every day from drunk driving.
  • By the time they are arrested a drunk driver has driven drunk an average of 80 times.
  • One-third of all teen deaths from car crashes are alcohol-related.
  • People who start drinking when they are kids are seven times more likely to be involved in a drunk driving accident.

Any way you slice it, driving impaired is a very bad idea with serious consequences.

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