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What’s the difference between a DWI and a DUI?

driving while drunk


One obvious difference between DWI and DUI is the acronym. DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. DUI stands for driving under the influence. In a few states, the terms OUI for operating under the influence or OWI operating while intoxicated are used. But what are other differences between DUI and DWI?

The Threshold

The standard for DUI is set by the state. For example, in the state of Texas, a DUI ticket can only be issued to someone under the age of 21. And it will be issued to any “minor” under 21 who has blood alcohol levels below the legal limit of 0.08 but over 0.02. In zero tolerance states, anyone under 21 with a breathalyzer value over 0.0 can be charged with DUI.

In Dallas, Texas, a DWI refers to someone over 21 who is either driving while clearly impaired or has a blood alcohol level over 0.08, and you would need a Dallas DWI attorney.  First time offenders may even see a driving while intoxicated charge downgraded to DUI so that their lives aren’t ruined. Fortunately, a driving while intoxicated charge cannot be compounded by a DUI offense.

In many states, you can get a ticket for DUI based on symptoms rather than evidence. For example, you could get a DUI ticket if you fail a field sobriety test or were witnessed driving erratically. If you’re just tired or had trouble seeing, a blood test taken shortly after your arrest may exonerate you. Yet you could still be charged with reckless driving.

Note that refusal to take a breathalyzer or blood test can result in suspension of driving privileges. This is especially true in “implied consent” states like California. In California, refusal to take a breath test when ordered will result in a mandatory, twelve month driver’s license suspension.

The Wider Definition

While DWI or driving while intoxicated may include drunk driving, the category was created to allow for the arrest of those who were impaired by something other than alcohol. For example, someone who is driving while high on cannabis could be charged with driving while intoxicated. The impairment could be due to legal or illegal substances. It doesn’t matter to the courts if you’re impaired by prescription painkillers, medical marijuana or too much cold medication. The point is that you were driving while incapable of safely operating the vehicle.

Note that you can be charged with drug offenses if you were found to be impaired due to illegal drugs. That means you could be hit with both DWI and criminal drug possession charges or a related charge. If you’re suspected of being under the influence, police may call in a drug recognition expert or DRE to determine if you are indeed under the influence of something. You’re legally required to cooperate with their additional tests. Test positive for a controlled substance, and you can be charged with DWI and a variety of other charges.

It is almost impossible for police to prove a DWI without physical evidence, and that is one reason why it is generally considered worse than DUI. That’s why a DWI never leaves your driving record, though it may no longer drive up your auto insurance rates after a few years.

Driving while intoxicated

The Penalties

In many states, a DUI is less severe than a DWI. In Texas, the penalties for DUI include a fine of up to five hundred dollars, being ordered to to forty hours of community service, sent to mandatory alcohol awareness classes and suspension of their driver’s license for up to sixty days. However, juveniles under the age of 18 could be charged with both a DUI and given additional penalties for under-aged drunk driving.

Penalties for DWI in Texas include larger fines, suspension of one’s driver’s license for several months, and even prison time. Think six months without driving instead of two. In other states, DUI and DWI penalties are similar. But if you’re both drunk and high, expect additional penalties.

Know that there are aggravating factors that can result in more serious penalties. For example, driving drunk with a child in the car can result in additional penalties. Driving with a blood alcohol level over .15 percent can result in additional penalties. And prior DUI and DWI convictions will result in a harsher sentence. Know that the judge can take DWI and DUI offenses committed in another state into account when sentencing you.

The Long-Term Consequences

Both DUI and DWI result in a number of consequences. You could be ordered to install an ignition interlock device that prevents you from starting the car without going through a breathalyzer test. In both cases, your conviction will increase your auto insurance rates. However, in jurisdictions where DWI is more severe than DWI, your auto insurance rates will skyrocket because of the perceived greater risk you pose as a driver.

If you are in an accident and found to have been DUI or DWI, the accident will be considered your fault. This means your insurance company will not pay for any property damage or medical bills caused by the accident. That is why a car accident caused by driving intoxicated or drunk can wipe you out financially. If you’re in an accident and found guilty of a more severe charge of DWI, your insurance company may simply drive you, especially if it is a repeat offense.

Driving while intoxicated

The Process of Getting Your License Back

In many states, DUI and DWI will result in loss of your driver’s license. A second offense will likely result in jail time and/or probation. Once you complete your sentence and pay your court costs and fines, you can work toward getting your driver’s license back. Expect to attend defensive driving courses. And if you’ve had two offenses or a DWI conviction, you may be forced to attend treatment sessions for your addiction. That’s especially true if you’ve had other drug or alcohol offenses or are under 21. This could be anything from attending AA meetings to being ordered into a residential treatment program.


In general, driving while intoxicated is as bad if not worse than DUI. A driving while intoxicated offense has similar penalties like fines and jail time, but they are generally more severe.