What's the Difference Between a DWI and DUI?

by Team eLocal
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The differences between a DUI and DWI offense can be confusing and vary widely depending on where you live.

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Here’s what you need to know about these charges.

What's a DUI?

DUI is short for "driving under the influence." This could mean driving under the influence of any substance that could affect your ability to drive safely, including alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription medications.

Typically, most states charge a DUI as a misdemeanor offense if it's your first driving conviction. However, you may receive a felony conviction if you have previous driving convictions on your record or seriously injure or kill someone.

What's a DWI?

What qualifies as a DWI offense depends on your state. In some states, DWI stands for “driving while impaired.” Various factors could be considered an impairment, including drinking alcohol, taking illegal drugs or even being too tired to drive safely.

In other states, the letters DWI may stand for “driving while intoxicated.” This means your ability to drive safely is impaired by alcohol, drugs or another substance.

You don't necessarily need to exceed your state's blood alcohol content (BAC) limit to receive a DWI charge. The charge can also apply if you test below the legal limit but fail a field sobriety test.

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What's the Difference Between a DUI and DWI?

The difference between a DUI and DWI varies considerably between states, and some states use only one term to charge all instances of impaired driving. In states that use both, DWI often applies to alcohol intoxication, while DUI applies to a driving impairment caused by any other substance. Conversely, the meanings may be the opposite in other states. The only way to know which description applies to each situation is to check the laws in the state where you live.

The consequences of receiving a DUI or DWI conviction are broadly similar and are usually more severe if you have multiple DUI or DWI convictions. These consequences could include:

  • Fines: Fines for DUI and DWI offenses vary significantly by state. For example, the maximum penalty for a first offense is $300 in Wisconsin, while a similar crime could carry a fine of up to $5,000 in Indiana.
  • Jail term: You could receive a jail term for a DUI or DWI offense, even if it's your first conviction. Again, the maximum jail sentences vary by state. For example, you could receive a 72-hour jail term for a first offense in Alaska, while Arkansas issues jail sentences of up to 1 year.
  • License suspension: Depending on your state, you may receive a license suspension of up to 3 years.
  • Community service: Some states will consider a community service penalty as an alternative to a jail term, especially for a first offense.
  • Increased insurance premiums: You'll need to declare your conviction to your insurance company and when applying for a new auto insurance policy, which almost always results in higher premiums.


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