What’s the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

Each state treats charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs differently and therefore uses different terms to describe charges. The distinctions between a DUI and DWI are often subtle and are typically handled differently by each state. In some states, the difference between a DWI and DUI depends on the drivers BAC or level of intoxication.


DUI stands for driving under the influence

DWI stands for driving while intoxicated

OWI stands for operating while intoxicated; only a handful of states use this designation.

When a person is arrested for DUI/ DWI it means they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which includes drugs prescribed to the alleged offender by their doctor. The important thing to remember is regardless of the terms used; these charges mean you were impaired while operating a motor vehicle.

In the states that designate a difference between DUI and DWI, the DUI is typically a lesser charge which is dictated by the driver’s blood alcohol level at the time of their arrest. In certain states, a DWI can be reduced to a DUI if it is the driver’s first offense, they are remorseful of their actions and their blood alcohol level was not significantly above the legal limit. For example, New York state charges driver with a BAC below .08 with DUI; a DWI is used for drivers who are over the legal limit.

Some states such as New Jersey and North Carolina treat DUIs and DWIs the same and driver can face criminal charges if their blood alcohol level is above .08, Theses states have “zero tolerance” laws and as far is the law is concerned driving over the legal limit is a crime and punished in the same manner.

In some states, there is no designation for DUI because they use the term DWI.

Other states a DWI is the term used for drivers who are driving under the influence of alcohol whereas a DUI indicates the driver was under the influence of drugs.

In Texas, DUI is reserved for underage drivers while DWI is used for drivers over the legal drinking age.

On the federal level, the distinction between a DUI and DWI is based on the driver’s blood alcohol level. A DWI is issued when the driver is above the .08 legal limit, below the limit is classified as a DUI.

See also: Common Misconceptions about DUIs

These states use DUI for driving under the influence of alcohol:

Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming

These states use DWI for driving under the influence of alcohol:

Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, D.C

These states use OUI or OWI for driving under the influence of alcohol:

Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin

When it comes down to the charges, the distinctions between DUI and DWI are subtle and should be taken seriously since an offender can face jail time, revocation of their driver’s license and a mar in their record. Anyone facing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs need to retain a DUI/DWI attorney to work on defense strategy which will minimize the resulting penalties.