DUI and DWI refer to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, or both, depending on the state. Specifically, DUI stands for "driving under the influence," while DWI means "driving while intoxicated."
Most states' drunk-driving laws use either one or the other term. A few states use completely different terms, like Ohio (OVI, "operating a vehicle impaired") and Iowa (OWI, "operating while intoxicated").
No matter which of these terms is used, it refers to driving after drinking enough alcohol or taking enough drugs to cause impairment.
In the case of alcohol, it can also mean that your blood alcohol level (BAC) is above the legal limit of 0.08%, regardless of impairment.
Some states’ statutes refer to both DUI and DWI, and in those states these are different charges.
How the states define DWI v. DUI can vary. In many cases, DWI is the more serious charge. The difference is often based on BAC. For example:
Some states use the charge of DWI only for alcohol intoxication, while DUI can include being under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a lower BAC. New York divides its DWAI charge into DWAI-Drugs or DWAI-Alcohol to indicate the type of impairment.
Understanding the exact nature of the charges against you is vital to evaluating your options. A lawyer who knows your state’s drunk driving laws can help you decide on the best course of action if you’ve been charged with driving while intoxicated.