What is the Difference between a DUI and DWI?

Driving while impaired is not only reckless and dangerous, it comes with some heavy penalties. Many people don’t realize that both drugs and alcohol can result in an impaired driving charge – and you should never operate a motor vehicle if you have taken any alcohol or drugs that impair you in anyway – prescription or illicit.

Have you ever wondered what the difference between a DUI and a DWI is? Here is some more information to help you determine the difference and learn how serious these crimes are.


DUI, or Driving Under the Influence, is used exclusively in some states to describe anyone operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any substance that causes impairment. Other states use this to pertain specifically to vehicle operators who are impaired by drugs. In states that distinguish between DUI and DWI, DUI is usually considered a lesser charge.


DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated, typically refers specifically to those operating a vehicle who are drunk or have been consuming alcohol. If a state does not have a DUI charge, and only uses DWI, then DWI would refer to all substances that cause impairment.

The Consequences

Although charges and penalties differ state to state, there are some similarities, including things like license suspensions and fines. Some states, where it is a first offense, will lower a DWI to a DUI charge, if your Blood Alcohol concentration (BAC) was not excessively over the limit. To get this you will require a good lawyer to negotiate a plea bargain, and there are no guarantees. All states have a zero tolerance rule for those under the age of 21 who are operating a vehicle. This means, that whether or not you are above the legal limit, you will get slammed with charges. Some states apply the zero tolerance rule across the board – regardless of age.


Other places, like California or Arizona, have specific caveats tied into their DUI/DWI charges. California requires certain arrest procedures, which if not performed, give the detainee the right to refuse an on the spot BAC test. Arizona doesn’t require proof of BAC to arrest for DUI/DWI. These are all things you should keep in mind and research, particularly if you travel a lot.

What you can expect

If you are facing DUI or DWI, the penalties will greatly depend on whether or not it is a first offense, but it is within reason to expect the following penalties and restrictions:

Administrative Licensing Suspension: Depending on whether this is a first or subsequent offence, you could lose your license for anywhere from 30 days to a year or more.

Interlock Ignition Device (IID): These attach to your steering wheel and the cars computer system. You need to blow into it to unlock the vehicles ignition and make it drivable. Every time you want to drive your vehicle, you are submitted to a breathalyzer test.

Vehicle Confiscation or impoundment: When arrested for DUI or DWI, the police will arrange for a tow truck to remove your vehicle from your possession. You will have to pay any necessary impoundment fees to retrieve your vehicle.

Fines: These can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on factors such as: recidivism, damage caused, death, or if injuries were caused.

Prison: Serious time in prison can come from DUI and DWI offenses that result in grave injuries or death.

Accompanying charges: A DUI or DWI might not be the only charges you face if you are arrested for these crimes. Depending on the circumstances, you could be faced with multiple charges, including but not limited to, drinking under age, driving with open alcohol in the vehicle, possession, reckless endangerment, manslaughter, or assault with a deadly weapon.

Many people feel that DUI and DWI are the same thing, but in many cases they are not. Many states have separate definitions for the two, and with that comes separate charges. The important similarly between the two is that of the vehicle. Operating a vehicle while not fully alert, is a crime. This is true even if you are driving while fatigued, but not under the influence of any substance. If you are charged with either of these offenses, seek qualified legal counsel immediately.

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