What Exactly is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?

Driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is a crime in every state. And no matter what state you live in, you’ll be considered guilty of breaking the law if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is at 0.08 or higher.

With that said, the nomenclature for these laws and rules varies greatly. For example, when someone is arrested with driving while drunk, you’ll often hear the acronyms DUI and DWI thrown around.

But what exactly is the difference between a DUI and a DWI? And what do these words mean anyway?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. So continue reading and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know.

What’s the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence. When someone is driving with alcohol in their system, that person is committing a DUI.

While the legal BAC limit is 0.08% federally, some states will charge people who have a BAC as low as 0.01%, depending on the age of the driver. This is because it’s illegal for anyone in the US to drink alcohol who is under the age of 21.

In some states, law enforcement officers can issue someone with a DUI without even checking their BAC with a breathalyzer. If a driver fails a field sobriety test, appears to be under the influence of alcohol, or is exhibiting erratic driving behavior, they can be charged with a DUI.

DWI, on the other hand, stands for Driving While Impaired. Some states will use DWI to mean Driving While Intoxicated. If DWI stands for Driving While Impaired, then DWI and DUI mean the same thing in that state.

Some states will have DWIs and DUIs. If this is the case, then the DWI usually refers to driving while impaired by drugs. These can be drugs that are recreational or prescribed.

All of these charges mean that the driver was showing dangerous and erratic behind while they were operating a vehicle. Even if the driver is within the state’s legal BAC limit, they can still be charged with a DWI or DUI if they fail a field sobriety test.

The state where the offense took place can have a big impact on the legal outcome. This is because states that have zero-tolerance laws won’t differentiate between DWI and DUI violations.

Is a DWI or DUI Worse?

If your state sees DWI and DUI as separate offenses, then the DWI will usually carry more heavy penalties. A DWI is usually considered to be a larger degree of impairment.

Some states give people the opportunity to reduce a charge from a DWI down to a DUI if it’s the first that the driver has committed such an offense, and the driver’s BAC was less than 0.08%.

Both of these charges are serious and can have lasting consequences. They can also be difficult to overturn, especially if the officer had a good reason to pull the driver over, if the driver failed a field sobriety test, or if they consented to a breathalyzer.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI, read this article so you can learn about everything you need to know.

Will and DWI or DUI Raise Your Insurance Rate?

After you’re charged with a DWI or DUI offense, you’ll face one or more of the below punishments:

  • Mandated community service
  • Loss of coverage or increased costs for car insurance
  • Temporary suspension or complete forfeiture of driver’s license
  • Monetary fine

After a DWI or DUI, the driver might have to install an ignition interlock device on the steering wheel of their vehicle. This device is a built-in breathalyzer that makes sure that the driver has a BAC of 0.0% before they can start their car.

Your insurance costs will mostly go up if you’re charged with a DWI or DUI. In order to apply for new car insurance after you’ve been charged, you might have to submit an SR-22 through your local DMV.

An SR-22 is a form that you file with the state, it’s not a type of insurance. It’s a certificate of financial responsibility that shows that you’re carrying at least the amount of car insurance that is mandated by your state. With this form, the insurance company guarantees to the state that you’re maintaining your insurance and are financially responsible for any accidents that you cause.


DWI and DUI aren’t the only acronyms that describe drunk driving. OUI is used in only three states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine. The acronym means Operating Under the Influence. OWI is also used in some jurisdictions and it means Operating While Intoxicated.

The word “operating” is used to show that you can be charged for more than just driving a car while under the influence. Even if you’re vehicle is stopped and turned off, you can still be charged if you’re in the car and under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The Importance of Knowing What the Difference Is Between a DUI and a DWI

Getting charged for drunk or drug-impaired driving is a serious offense that carries serious consequences. The best way to avoid being charged is to not drink or drugs before operating a vehicle.

With that said, if you’re ever charged with a DWI or DUI, it’s crucial that you contact a reliable and experienced lawyer as soon as possible. They can help lessen the charges or even have the case dismissed entirely. And by knowing the difference between a DUI and a DWI, you can better protect your rights and make more informed legal decisions.

Interested in reading more helpful articles? Check out the rest of our blog today!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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