How driving under the influence differs from driving while intoxicated
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 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|
|Arkansas||DWI/DUI (underage drivers with a BAC under .08)|
|District of Columbia||DUI/DWI|
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 and different types of drugs influence the body differently, particularly while driving.
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.
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
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.
|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|
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:
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
With the right criminal defense and defense attorney, you may be able to reduce a DUI or DWI charge via one of two methods.
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:
If you don’t want to do a plea bargain, you could potentially reduce a DUI or DWI charge by arguing the following:
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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:
We also collected some notable third-party DUI statistics:
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.
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.
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.
|DWI||.08, or 0.4 for commercial drivers, or other intoxication evidence|
|DWAI, alcohol||.05-.07, or other evidence of impairment|
|Zero-tolerance law (applies to those under 21 only)||.02-.07|
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.
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.
DUI and DWI Overview. NOLO. (2023).
DUI Vs DWI. DUIVsDWI.Org Informational Website. (2023).
Drug-Impaired Driving. National Highway Traffice Safety Administration, United States Department of Transportation. (2023).
Alcohol Impaired Driving. Governors Highway Safety Association. (2023).
Auto insurance after a DUI. Progressive. (2023).
How to get a DUI dropped to reckless driving – Best 2 ways. Shouse California Law Group. (2022, Jan 1).
DOES AN INTERLOCK AFFECT INSURANCE? ALCOLOCK USA. (2023).
2019 Crime in the United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2019).