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What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

Did you know that in 2023, 25% of all traffic fatalities occurred in drunk driving accidents, resulting in approximately 37 deaths each day in alcohol-related car crashes? The loss of lives on the road could have been avoided if drivers had made responsible decisions and refrained from driving under the influence.

You may have seen the terms DUI and DWI used mutually, but do you understand the distinction between the two? Understanding their differences can influence your legal position and driving rights.

Hiring someone who is well-versed in dealing with these legal matters can provide you with the best defense for your case. According to a St. Augustine DUI attorney, when you work with a criminal defense attorney, you can achieve the most favorable outcome, as they help limit or drop the charges against you.

In this article, let’s explore the complications behind these acronyms and understand the differences that set them apart.

Variations in Terminology by State

Understanding the variations in DUI and DWI terminology across different states can help clarify legal distinctions regarding impaired driving offenses.

Some states use DUI (Driving Under the Influence) to refer to both alcohol and drug-related impairment; others differentiate between the two by using DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) for alcohol impairment and DUI for drug impairment. States like New York and Hawaii predominantly use DWI, whereas California and Florida commonly use DUI for both alcohol and drugs.

In some states, the terminology may also vary based on the severity of the offense. For example, Texas uses DWI for alcohol-related impairment but adds distinctions like DWI 1st, 2nd, or 3rd based on the number of prior offenses. States like Massachusetts use OUI (operating under the influence) instead of DUI or DWI.

Legal Definitions of DUI and DWI

Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are distinct legal terms used to describe impaired driving.

In some states, the term DUI is used to refer to driving under the influence of not just alcohol but drugs as well. For example, driving under the influence of hallucinogens, such as magic mushrooms, is a serious offense. But can you drive on mushrooms? Driving after consuming magic mushrooms is illegal and falls under the DUI category.

DWI specifically pertains to driving while impaired by alcohol. The difference between the two lies in the specific wording of the statutes in each state. Some states may use these terms interchangeably, while others may differentiate based on the level of impairment.

Understand the legal definitions of DUI and DWI in your state to comprehend the consequences and potential penalties associated with each offense. Knowing the distinctions between DUI and DWI can help you deal with the legal proceedings and make informed decisions if you ever find yourself facing charges related to impaired driving. 

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Distinctions

Understand the differences between DUI and DWI to understand the differences in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels.

BAC levels refer to the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. The legal BAC limit varies by state but is typically set at 0.08%. If your BAC is at or above this limit, you’re considered legally impaired and can be charged with a DUI or DWI.

DUI is used to refer to driving under the influence, while DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. In other states, these terms are used interchangeably to describe impaired driving, regardless of the specific substance causing impairment.

The level of impairment increases with higher BAC levels. For instance, a BAC of 0.08% may lead to impaired coordination and judgment, while a BAC of 0.15% or higher can result in severe intoxication, affecting your ability to drive safely. 

Penalties and Consequences for Each

Here are the penalties and consequences for DUI and DWI offenses that provide insight into the legal ramifications of impaired driving.

For a DWI offense, penalties often include fines, license suspension, potential jail time, mandatory attendance at alcohol education programs, and the installation of an ignition interlock device in the vehicle. These consequences can have a significant impact on your daily life, financial situation, and freedom.

DUI penalties can be even more severe, especially if they involve substances other than alcohol. DUI offenders may face harsher penalties, longer license suspensions, and increased scrutiny by law enforcement.

Regardless of whether you’re charged with a DUI or a DWI, both offenses carry serious legal consequences that can affect your future opportunities and well-being.

Impact on Driving Record and Insurance

How does a DUI or DWI offense impact your driving record and insurance rates?

When you’re convicted of a DUI or DWI, it typically goes on your driving record. This mark on your record can have serious implications. It may lead to increased insurance premiums or even the cancellation of your current policy. Insurance companies often view individuals with DUI or DWI convictions as high-risk drivers, which translates to higher premiums.

The exact impact on your insurance rates can vary depending on the insurance company, your location, your driving history, and the severity of the offense. In some cases, you may be required to file an SR-22 form with your state’s DMV to prove you have the necessary coverage. A DUI or DWI conviction can stay on your driving record for several years, affecting your insurance rates during that time. 


Now that you know the difference between DUI and DWI, remember that the terminology may vary depending on the state you’re in, but both offenses carry serious consequences. You should always drive responsibly, and you should never get behind the wheel if you have been drinking. Stay safe and make smart choices to avoid legal trouble and potential harm to yourself and others on the road.

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