What Is The Difference Between DWI and DUI

difference between dwi and dui

Learn the Difference Between DWI and DUI

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver kill 29 people a day, or 10,000 every year. That number, which adds up to one person every 50 minutes, is actually an improvement; the number of deaths due to impaired driving has fallen by a third over the past 30 years. Still, more than 1 million drivers were arrested in 2016 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.


Charges against impaired drivers can be either a DUI (driving under the influence) or a DWI (driving while impaired), depending on the state. Some states use both terms, while others use one or the other.

  • When one term refers to alcohol, the other is used in cases of impairment from non-alcohol substances, such as prescription or recreational drugs.
  • Some states use DWI when referring to having a blood alcohol level over the legal limit, and the term DUI when charging a driver with driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Some states use DWI to describe driving while impaired by drugs, alcohol or an unknown substance. DUI is then used when referring to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Both DUI and DWI charges are serious, indicating the driver was behaving dangerously while driving. DUI is the most common term used when the driver was driving drunk.

OUI vs. OVI vs. OWI

A few states use the terms OUI (operating under the influence), OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) or OWI (operating while intoxicated). When the word “operating” is used, this indicates that the driver may not have even been driving at the time they are charged.

Other Acronyms

Some states use different acronyms:

  • ADWI – Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated
  • DUII-CS – Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants: Controlled Substances
  • DUII – Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants
  • DWAI – Driving While Ability Impaired
  • OMVI – Operating a Motor Vehicle While Impaired
  • OUII – Operating Under the Influence of Intoxicating Liquor

What Happens if You Are Pulled Over?

If you get pulled over for driving erratically, the officer will try to assess if you have been driving impaired. You may be given a breathalyzer test and/or a field sobriety test.

Breathalyzer Test

A breathalyzer is used to measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Keep in mind crashes occur and people are killed even when the impaired driver has a BAC lower than .08.

Field Sobriety Test

Field sobriety tests, alternately referred to as standardized field sobriety tests, help officers determine if a driver is impaired.

There are three basic tests:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN)
  • Walk and turn
  • One-leg stand

The Most At-Risk Drivers

The CDC has compiled numbers on which drivers are most at risk for driving when impaired.

Drivers with Prior Convictions for Impaired Driving

  • Drivers with a blood alcohol count of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have at least one prior conviction for DUI/DWI than drivers with no alcohol in their systems.

Male Drivers

  • Men are more likely to be driving drunk in fatal crashes than women (in 2018, 21% of men compared to 14% of women).

Young Drivers

  • Young people are more at risk of being in a crash than older people, no matter what the BAC.
  • Of drivers in 2016 with BAC levels of 0.08% or higher who were involved in fatal crashes, nearly three in ten (27%) were between 25 and 34 years old. Drivers aged 21 to 24 were the second largest 26% and those ages 35 to 44 were third at 22%.

Motorcycle Drivers

  • 25% of motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2016 had BACs of 0.08% or higher.
  • Motorcycle drivers ages 35 to 39 in 2016 had the highest percentage of deaths with BACs of 0.08% or more, or 38%.

Consequences of Receiving a DUI/DWI

Thanks to having tougher, more well-enforced drunk-driving laws since the 1980s, statistics show that the number of impaired drivers who die has on the road has been greatly reduced.

Consequences can include:

  • Misdemeanor charge
  • Felony charge
  • Driver’s license suspension or revocation
  • Fines (first time offenses can cost the driver $10,000 or more in fines and legal fees)
  • Jail time
  • Community service

Some states also require the driver to buy and install ignition interlock devices, which basically is a breathalyzer test connected to the car’s ignition. These devices are set so that the vehicle won’t start unless the driver’s BAC is below a low pre-set limit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supports the expansion of interlocks to help keep drunk drivers off the road.

How a DUI/DWI Affects Insurance Rates

After receiving a DUI or DWI, you may be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle’s steering wheel. When applying for a new car insurance policy, you may have to submit an SR-22 form through the DMV. SR-22 is a vehicle liability document required for about three years by most state DMVs indicating you have a high-risk auto insurance policy.

How Much Does a Standard Drink Hold?

The CDC notes that in the United States the standard drink holds 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol:

  • 8-oz. of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 12-oz. of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 5-oz. of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 5-oz., or a shot, of 80-proof hard liquor (40% alcohol content)

Drinking? Do Not Drive.

Avoiding a drunk driving crash can be as simple as acting responsible.

Designated driver – Even before you go out to celebrate with friends, choose a non-drinking designated driver to get you home safely.

Driver who has been drinking – Do not let friends who have been drinking, drive. Instead take their keys and make sure they arrange a sober ride home.

Use alternative means to get home – Knowing you plan to drink, if you don’t have a sober friend to be designated driver plan ahead to use a taxi or ride-hailing service.

Always use a seat belt – If you’re wearing a seatbelt you are safer in the event an impaired driver crashes into you.

Bottom Line

When you drive drunk you are taking your life and others’ into your own hands. Don’t risk killing yourself, your passengers and other drivers being impaired by alcohol or drugs while driving. Besides endangering yourself and others, driving impaired can lead to a DUI or DWI, which in turn can be costly. Fines, legal fees, higher auto insurance rates all add up to financial pain for years to come.


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