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Last updated: March 5, 2024

DUI vs. DWI: What’s the Difference?

How driving under the influence differs from driving while intoxicated

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No matter what state you’re in, driving drunk is illegal. But states have different names for the same action — not just DUI and DWI, but also OUI (operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor), OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated), and OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while impaired).

While the names may vary, they all boil down to the same thing: driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Here’s everything you need to know about the difference between DUIs and DWIs, the most common abbreviations for impaired driving.

DUI vs. DWI: Drunk Driving From State to State

DUI means driving under the influence. In some states, the vehicle must be in motion to qualify for a DUI, while in other states, the driver just has to be controlling the vehicle at all, even if it’s not moving.1 In contrast, DWI stands for driving while intoxicated — i.e., drinking and driving — and is based on someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or blood alcohol content.

Some states define DUIs and DWIs by whether the driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, with DUIs involving drugs and DWIs involving alcohol.2 Here are the abbreviations each state uses:

State Impaired driving charge abbreviation
Alabama DUI
Alaska DUI
Arizona DUI
Arkansas DWI/DUI (underage drivers with a BAC under .08)
California DUI/DUID
Colorado DUI/DWAI
Connecticut OUI
Delaware DUI
District of Columbia DUI/DWI
Florida DUI
Georgia DUI
Idaho DUI
Illinois DUI
Indiana OWI/DUI
Iowa OWI
Kansas DUI
Kentucky DUI/DWI
Louisiana DWI/UDUI
Maine OUI
Maryland DUI/DWI
Massachusetts OUI
Minnesota DWI
Mississippi DUI
Missouri DWI
Montana DUI
Nebraska DUI
Nevada DUI
New Hampshire DWI
New Jersey DUI/DWI
New Mexico DWI
North Carolina DWI
North Dakota DUI
Ohio OVI
Oklahoma DUI
Oregon DUII
Pennsylvania DUI
Rhode Island DUI
South Carolina DUI
South Dakota DUI
Tennessee DUI
Texas DWI
Utah DUI
Vermont DUI
Virginia DUI
Washington DUI
West Virginia DUI
Wisconsin OWI
Wyoming DUI

Which Is Worse?

Typically, DWIs are worse than DUIs, as they mean the driver is more impaired. That said, some states don’t differentiate between DUIs and DWIs and have zero-tolerance policies, meaning any BAC over the legal limit is a crime. You should never drive with a BAC over the legal limit.


While OUI means operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor, OWI means operating while intoxicated without specifying liquor or alcohol.

Alcohol vs. Drug Influence

Alcohol and different types of drugs influence the body differently, particularly while driving.

  • Alcohol and marijuana: Both alcohol and marijuana impair judgment, slow reaction times, and affect coordination, making driving difficult.
  • Cocaine and methamphetamine: Coke and meth are more likely to lead to reckless or aggressive driving; e.g., road rage.
  • Combining drugs and alcohol: When you combine alcohol with one or more drugs, each drug’s effect gets amplified, making driving even more dangerous.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines: Many medications, even legal and prescribed drugs, cause drowsiness or dizziness, impacting your driving ability.


Check your medication’s side effects before you get behind the wheel.3 If you’re not sure whether it’s safe to drive while on a particular medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

DUI State Laws

Each state has different laws on DUIs, DWIs, and other abbreviations that mean driving while intoxicated. To find your state’s laws, check out an interactive map from the Governors Highway Safety Association, linked in our citations.4

Are DUIs/DWIs Felonies?

Depending on the number of offenses and the effects of the DUI or DWI (like killing or seriously injuring another person), the charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. The classifications come with different punishments.

Comparison Misdemeanor Felony
Offense number First, typically Second or higher, unless the first caused fatalities or serious injuries
Fatalities No Yes, even if first offense
Serious injuries No Yes, even if first offense
Maximum jail time 1 year More than a year
Maximum fine $1,000 Thousands of dollars
License suspension Yes, for shorter duration Yes, for longer duration
Loss of voting rights No Possibly

Do I Need an SR-22 After a DUI Conviction?

Whether or not you’ll need an SR-22 form after a DUI conviction depends on which state you live in. The following states require SR-22s following DUI convictions:

  • Alaska, for five years after a first offense, 10 years after a second offense, or 20 years following a third offense
  • Arizona, if you’ve had a license revocation or suspension for three years
  • Colorado, from specific revocations or suspensions
  • Florida, although it requires FR-44s, not SR-22s, for DUI convictions
  • Georgia, if you’re a habitual violator with a revoked driver’s license for three to five years
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon, any time you have to reinstate your driving privileges
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee, if you’re part of the Driver Improvement Program
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming, for three years

How Long a DUI Stays on Your Record

In most states, a DUI will stay on your record anywhere from three to five years. However, in states like California, a DUI will stay on your record for 10 years, much longer than average.5

Can You Reduce a DUI/DWI?

With the right criminal defense and defense attorney, you may be able to reduce a DUI or DWI charge via one of two methods.

Plea Bargain

Pleading guilty to a less serious charge, like reckless driving, may help you reduce your DUI charge, a process known as charge bargaining. A plea bargain is most likely to be successful in the following situations:

  • It’s your first DUI conviction.
  • You are over the age of 21.
  • You did not cause an accident.
  • Your BAC at the time of the arrest was low.
  • Your criminal background is completely or nearly clean.

Legal Defense

If you don’t want to do a plea bargain, you could potentially reduce a DUI or DWI charge by arguing the following:

  • The breathalyzer device was not calibrated properly.
  • The police officer did not conduct the field sobriety test properly.
  • The traffic stop was illegal.
  • The traffic stop was without probable cause.
  • Your BAC at the time of the arrest was below the legal limit.6

Whether or not you reduce the charge, you may be able to lessen your penalty, whether it’s hours of community service, jail time, or a fine.

How Much Car Insurance Rates Increase After a DUI

Unfortunately, DUIs do negatively affect car insurance rates. If you get a DUI, your premium will increase anywhere from 28 to 371 percent, with an average increase of 80 percent.7 Drivers with a DUI conviction are considered high-risk or nonstandard drivers, whom not all insurance companies cover. Insurance providers that cover nonstandard drivers have higher rates compared to companies that cater to standard drivers with a clean driving record.

How Long DUIs Impact Insurance Rates

Your DUI will impact your cost of auto insurance for as long as it’s on your motor vehicle report, which is three to five years in most states. Once that period ends, your premium should decrease.

Reckless Driving vs. DUI

Reckless driving is driving with a disregard for consequences and safety, not following traffic laws, or causing a collision, injuries, and property damage. Reckless driving, also called careless or dangerous driving, is more than just negligence; it’s intentional, although it’s usually charged as a misdemeanor. Some examples of reckless driving include:

  • Driving a certain number of miles per hour over the speed limit (teen speeding is a particular problem)
  • Racing another car
  • Trying to escape a police officer
  • Passing on a two-lane highway where you can’t see oncoming traffic well

Reckless driving may or may not also be a DUI. Wet reckless driving is an informal name for driving recklessly while under the influence. If you plead guilty to reckless driving in order to drop a DUI charge, it counts as wet reckless driving.


Wet reckless driving has a punishment worse than dry reckless driving (sober driving) but less severe than a DUI conviction.

DUI Statistics

Using our proprietary data from thousands of insurance customers looking to be matched with providers from May to October 2021, we uncovered the following DUI statistics:

  • People with a DUI are 14 percent less likely to own a home than people without a DUI.
  • People with a DUI are 108 times more likely to have had two to five tickets in the past five years.
  • People with a DUI are 136 percent more likely to have had an at-fault accident in the past five years.

We also collected some notable third-party DUI statistics:

  • Across all age groups, 206 percent more men were arrested for DUI than women in 2019. This disparity was widest for senior drivers age 65 and older — 341 percent more men in this demographic were arrested for DUI than women.
  • The age group most likely to be arrested for DUI in 2019 was drivers age 25 to 29. This demographic is 46 percent more likely to be arrested for DUI than the rest of the population. The group least likely was those 65 and older, as senior drivers were 289 percent less likely to have been arrested for DUIs in 2019 compared to the average across all age groups.8
  • In 2020, 11,654 people died from traffic accidents in which at least one driver was impaired by alcohol, accounting for 30 percent of all traffic fatalities that year.
  • Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities increased by 14 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.


Drinking or doing drugs and then driving is always a bad idea. To keep everyone around you safe and your car insurance premium low, always drive sober or take advantage of rideshare services. Learn more about DUIs and DWIs in our frequently asked questions below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are DUIs and DWIs the same thing in Texas?

Texas uses the abbreviation DWI, not DUI. You are guilty of DWI if drugs or alcohol affects your driving in any way, even if your BAC is not at the state’s legal intoxication limit of 0.08 percent, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Is a DWI worse than a DUI in New York?

New York uses the abbreviation DWI, not DUI. It also uses DWAI, which means driving while ability impaired. Here is how the state defines DWIs and DWAIs, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Crime Minimum BAC
DWI .08, or 0.4 for commercial drivers, or other intoxication evidence
Aggravated DWI 0.18
DWAI, alcohol .05-.07, or other evidence of impairment
DWAI, drugs N/A
DWAI, combination N/A
Zero-tolerance law (applies to those under 21 only) .02-.07

Which is worse in California, a DUI or a DWI?

California uses the abbreviation DUI, not DWI, to refer to drinking and driving (in contrast, drinking while under the influence of drugs is DUID). You will get arrested for a DUI, and your driver’s license will be suspended, if you are older than 21 and have a BAC of .08 percent or higher.

For the first offense, your license will be suspended for four months. The suspension length is between one and 10 years for the second and subsequent offenses for those over 21. For those under 21, your license will be suspended for a year if your BAC is .01 percent or more, according to the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Is a DUI a misdemeanor in New York?

A DUI may or may not be a misdemeanor in New York. A charge will be upgraded to a felony if it’s a second or subsequent DUI offense or if the DUI caused death or serious injuries to another person. Either way, a driver will have to install and maintain an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for at least six months, according to the state’s DMV.


  1. DUI and DWI Overview. NOLO. (2023).

  2. DUI Vs DWI. DUIVsDWI.Org Informational Website. (2023).

  3. Drug-Impaired Driving. National Highway Traffice Safety Administration, United States Department of Transportation. (2023).

  4. Alcohol Impaired Driving. Governors Highway Safety Association. (2023).

  5. Auto insurance after a DUI. Progressive. (2023).

  6. How to get a DUI dropped to reckless driving – Best 2 ways. Shouse California Law Group. (2022, Jan 1).


  8. 2019 Crime in the United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2019).