In the alphabet soup of drunk driving laws, you might wonder about the differences between DUI and DWI. While they look and sound similar, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing.
What’s the Meaning of DUI and DWI?
DUI stands for “driving under the influence” and DWI for “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” In general, they are crimes for operating a car after consuming alcohol or taking drugs. Some states use either DUI or DWI, while others use both.
“Regardless of the acronym used, either a DUI or a DWI means the arresting officer has reason to believe the driver is too impaired to continue to drive,” according to legal information website HG.org.
Legal information website Nolo.com says it’s illegal in every state to drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. For alcohol, you’re considered drunk in every state if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is at least 0.08. But the BAC limit is lower for drivers who are under age 21. In terms of drugged driving, a law enforcement officer will see whether you’re showing some level of impairment by doing a field sobriety test, for instance.
Can States Use Both DUI and DWI?
Understanding the differences between DUI and DWI gets tricky when a state uses both terms.
One state might, for example, use DWI to refer to driving while intoxicated by alcohol. And use DUI for being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to traffic attorney David Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com.
However, another state might use DWI for driving while impaired by drugs, alcohol or other substances, and DUI for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Differences Between DUI and DWI in Texas
Traffic attorney Joseph Hoelscher of San Antonio-based Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC explains the differences between DUI and DWI in Texas. He says DUI applies when a driver under age 21 has any amount of alcohol in his or her system, even when not impaired or intoxicated.
So, an adult charged in Texas with DWI needs a BAC of at least 0.08 or demonstrate impairment. But if you’re under 21 and not impaired, you still could be convicted of DUI. Authorities would just have to prove that you took a sip of beer. In Texas, drivers under 21can also get charged for DWI.
In Texas, DWI is a more serious offense; a conviction carries the possibility of jail time. A DUI, on the other hand, carries the same penalties as a traffic ticket, but without jail time.
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Differences Between DUI and DWI in New York
In New York, there’s no such thing as DUI, according to Glenn Kurtzrock, a traffic attorney in Hauppauge, New York. Instead, there are DWI and DWAI (driving while ability impaired).
In New York, you can get a DWI for driving a vehicle with BAC of at least 0.08. And DWAI means driving when impaired by alcohol, but with BAC below 0.08.
The difference in penalties for DWI and DWAI in New York is significant, Kurtzrock says. DWI is a criminal misdemeanor (criminal offense), while DWAI is a non-criminal infraction.
Reischer recommends checking with your state’s motor vehicle department if you’re uncertain about differences between DUI and DWI. If you get a DUI or DWI, a traffic attorney can explain the law and represent you in court.