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What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

The difference between DUI and DWI is complicated: not only do different states use different terms, but sometimes the terms mean the same thing, while in other states they don’t.

DUI vs. DWI: What they stand for

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."

In some states, DUI and DWI mean the same thing

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.

In other states, DUI and DWI are different charges

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:

  • New York's DWI charge applies when a driver's BAC is above 0.08%. For a BAC from 0.05% to 0.07%, the charge is DWAI. This is a lesser charge and stands for "driving while ability impaired."
  • Maryland considers DUI to be the more serious charge, using it for a BAC above 0.08%. A charge of DWI requires a BAC of at least 0.07% but less than 0.08%.
  • Texas reserves the charge of DUI for minors driving with any detectable level of alcohol in their blood. Adults over 21 cannot be charged with DUI, only DWI. However, minors can be charged with DWI if their BAC is over 0.08%, or if they are visibly impaired.

Alcohol vs. other drugs

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.

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