5 Key Differences Between DUI and DWI

The acronym DUI stands for driving under the influence, which is a criminal charge levied against those who operate a motor vehicle after being impaired by alcohol or drugs. There may be limits involved, such as the blood-alcohol content you must be at to be deemed intoxicated in a legal sense. A DUI can either be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the actions and other circumstances. The acronym DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or impaired, and while it is similar to DUI and the terms are often used interchangeably, there are at least five differences worth noting.

1. DUI is the Standard

Every state in the union and the federal government recognize DUI as a criminal activity. Definition varies between states but differences aren’t drastic. Many states don’t recognize DWI, OWI and similar definitions. Those that do use these terms to distinguish one set of activities from another. For instance, a state may want a class of DUI-like activities to be charge more or less heavily than a DUI and thus will use DWI as that classification. DUI remains the standard.

2. Knowing versus Suspecting

DWI and DUI are also used to distinguish between knowing and suspecting. For instance, if a driver takes a breathalyzer test and is over the limit, they’re charged with a DUI because the police officer knows. On the other hand, if they refused, they’re charged with a DWI because the officer doesn’t know but has ample evidence to reasonably suspect so. In some cases, DWI is used because there is no fast test that can be used by an officer, such as is the case with marijuana usage.

3. DUI is More Likely to Be a First Offense

When a state distinguishes between DUI and DWI as criminal charges, DUI is the lesser offense and more likely to be the crime a first-time offender is charged with. Even if a first-time offender is charged with a DWI, having that sentenced reduced to a DUI is usually an option.

4. DUI and DWI Have Different Penalties

In cases where a state distinguishes between DUI and DWI, these charges will differ in potential penalties, minimum penalties, maximum penalties and recommended penalties. For instance, a person charged with a DUI may be able to pay a fine and do community service whereas a DWI may require jail time.

5. DUI and DWI Affect Licensing Differently

If you’re charged with a DUI/DWI, it can affect your ability to get and/or maintain a license. It will affect you in the state in which the charges were levied and other states. Even if you move to a state in which DWI isn’t recognized, there may be additional restrictions above and beyond a standard DUI.