What is the difference between DUI and DWI? [The Complete Guide]

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Things to know...
  • DUIs and DWIs are not only defined differently from state to state, but they are handled differently, depending on differing state procedures
  • Although there is a federal legal blood alcohol level, states are permitted to set stricter standards
  • If you drive while intoxicated, prepare yourself for the financial, legal, and civic costs associated with your decisions

How DUIs and DWIs are defined differs from state to state as there is no nationally recognized standard for what the terms mean. Regulations and punishments for violations will also differ across state lines, but it is certain that if you get caught driving under the influence of alcohol, you will pay for it — financially and legally.

Regardless of the differences between the terms, if you get a DUI or a DWI on your record, your car insurance rates will be affected. Not only will you want to seek legal advice or counsel to know how to proceed in court, but you will need resources to help you know how to become safely insured behind the wheel again.

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Jump ahead to any FAQ to answer your question:

Here are six basics you need to know:

#1 – What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, and it typically refers to being found to have a BAC (Blood Alcohol Level) over 0.08% while operating a motor vehicle. 0.08% is the federal legal limit for DUI, but some states take a more stringent approach to registering DUI violations. Zero tolerance policies give police officers leeway to charge you with DUI for a BAC as low as 0.01%.

In some states, you do not need to fail a breathalyzer test or a field sobriety test to be issued a DUI. An officer can pull you over on mere suspicion of DUI or DWI — for driving erratically or some other behavior behind the wheel that warrants suspicion of consumption of alcohol or drugs.

DWI usually stands for Driving While Impaired, but it can also mean Driving While Intoxicated. How DWI is defined depends on the state. Driving While Impaired refers to being impaired by drugs of any sort, legal or illegal.

DWI in these circumstances is a very serious offense, and even if you fail a breathalyzer, you could be under the influence of a drug of some sort. An officer might call in a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to determine if you are otherwise impaired.

When DWI is meant to imply Driving While Intoxicated it can be used interchangeably with DUI.

#2 – Which is Worse: DUI or DWI?

To determine which is worse — DUI or DWI — you need to know how DWI is being used. If DWI is being used as Driving While Impaired, then it is usually also handled as a worse offense than DUI and the state regulations will reflect that.

In states where DWI and DUI are treated as differing offenses, it is not uncommon for people who receive a more serious DWI violation to try and negotiate it down to a less serious DUI violation.

If you are trying to reduce a DWI to a DUI, though, and your BAC was over 0.08%, or you failed a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, chances are you will not receive a reduced charge. Other factors such as age and number of offenses will factor into whether or not you will be likely to receive a reduced charge.

It is worth noting, however, that both DUI and DWI are very serious offenses. In both cases, you have put both yourself and others at risk. In this regard, neither one is worse than the other.

#3 – How do DUI and DWI Impact Car Insurance Rates and Other Penalties?

If you get a DUI or DWI, your car insurance rates will be impacted. You face the possibility of loss of car insurance coverage altogether or increased rates. In some cases, your insurance rates could increase by two to three times until your record is clear, depending on your state regulations.

Depending on the level of offense, you might even have your license temporarily suspended, have to pay a fine, or perform community service.

Following these challenges — especially revocation or suspension of license — there are usually fees associated with the renewal of car insurance, along with higher rates once insurance is re-attained. We’ve researched each state’s unique system for handling these penalties, so review our research for further info.

#4 – DUI and DWI Statistics

The most recent statistics from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the CDC come from 2016, which report one death from DUI/DWI every 50 minutes, as well as the following:

  • 1.2 people killed per 100,000 (under the age of 21) in drunk driving accidents
  • 10,497 people killed in the United States due to drunk driving where the BAC of the impaired person was over the legal limit
  • 28% of the total traffic fatalities were due to drunk driving
  • 16% of motor vehicle crashes involved drugs other than alcohol
  • >1 million drivers arrested for driving while under the influence of either drugs or alcohol
  • $44 billion dollars spent every year on alcohol-related crashes

#5 – State-by-State DUI and DWI Laws

Here is a rundown of basic stats from 10 states regarding their treatment of DUI and DWI. As you will see, most adhere to the federal legal BAC limit of 0.08%, but there is a lot of variety regarding how the offenses are labeled and what the ALS (Administrative License Suspension) or revocation timeframes are. Refer to our full research to view details for all 50 states!

Alabama

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DUI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: Mandatory 90 days

California

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DUI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: 4 months

Colorado

  • BAC Limit: 0.05% DWAI, 0.08% DUI
  • Formal Name for Offense: DUI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: 9 months

Florida

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DUI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: 180 days minimum up to one year

Illinois

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DUI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: One year

Minnesota

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DWI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: Revoked for 90 days (180 days if under 21)

Missouri

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DWI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: 30-day suspension. May be eligible for restricted driving privilege

New York

  • BAC Limit: 0.05% DWAI, 0.08% DUI
  • Formal Name for Offense: DWI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: Revoked for at least six months. ADWI (Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated): One-year minimum

South Carolina

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DUI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: 6 months

Texas

  • BAC Limit: 0.08%
  • Formal Name for Offense: DWI
  • 1st Offense – ALS or Revocation: 90 days – one year. May be eligible for hardship permit

#6 – How to Get Insurance After DUI/DWI

One of the greatest challenges following a DUI or DWI can be getting one’s license and insurance back. After a DUI, an SR-22, or Certificate of Financial Responsibility, might be required for you to reinstate your license.

Provided by your insurance provider of choice, you will have to file this with your DMV and pay the fees associated with it. The SR-22, also, could double or even triple the cost you pay for insurance for a set number of years, depending on your state regulations.

Taking all the risk factors into consideration, the old adage is the best adage: Don’t drink and drive. For yourself, and for everyone around you.

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