What Is The Difference Between A DUI and A DWI?

The terms DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) are both terms used to describe drivers who operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are legal penalties for being charged with either offense but those charges vary depending on state laws. Every state has different laws regarding dangerous driving but generally, a DUI is a lesser charge that a DWI. But what is the difference between a DUI and a DWI? What are the charges for each? Before you decide to get behind the wheel after a night of celebrating, you should read about the consequences you could face.

Driving Under the Influence

Depending on what state you are in, driving under the influence is the lesser charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. A DUI signifies a lesser degree of intoxication which is determined by the driver’s blood alcohol level. In some instances, if a driver gets charged with a DWI, the charges may be lessened to a DUI if it was the driver’s first offense. However, for this to happen the case needs to meet some certain conditions. For one, if the driver’s blood alcohol level is just barely over the legal limit, they may only be charged with a DUI. Another reason is if the driver appeared to be genuinely remorseful for their actions.

Another difference in the two charges is that a DUI can refer to a driver being impaired by either alcohol or drugs. The drugs do not have to be illegal substances. There are over the counter drugs and prescription drugs that can impair a person’s driving. In some states, a DUI is evenly applied to people operating a boat or airplane while under the influence. In Texas, a DUI is only given to minors (under the age of 21) because any amount of alcohol in their system is illegal. A DUI can also be issued for a person simply having alcohol in the vehicle and within easy reach.

Driving While Intoxicated

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Driving While Intoxicated is a more severe charge in most states. It definitely carries more penalties. A DWI usually only refers to being intoxicated by alcohol. The driver must already be in a state of inebriation and their blood alcohol level would be over the .08 legal limit, which is higher than that required for a DUI. Repeat offenders with a record of DUI’s can also be charged with DWI. The reasoning is that the driver has not corrected their ways and thus should be subject to harsher penalties.

Some states have different requirements for a DWI. In Texas, for instance, anyone caught drinking and driving and is over 21 years old is issued a DWI, no matter how much their blood alcohol level is.

Zero Tolerance

Despite the different acronyms, laws regarding drunk driving are constantly changing. The fine line between the two charges is slowly disappearing. Many states have adopted what is called a zero tolerance attitude towards drivers who operate a vehicle while under the influence. They view any blood alcohol level above the legal limit to be the same offense. This means that the state will prosecute a driver to the full letter of the law, no matter what the circumstances. Thus they do not recognize a difference between a DUI and a DWI. Some states, such as Minnesota, do not even use the term DUI. Other states now use DUI to refer to drugs and DWI to refer to alcohol. As the laws in the United States continue to change, it would come as no surprise to see one term to disappear entirely and to have only one law that covers all forms of substance-related driving.