DUI vs. DWI: What’s the difference?

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UPDATED: 2021-03-23T18:11:45.223Z
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dwi vs dui

Drunk driving is a serious and dangerous offense that results in almost 30 deaths each day in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But this offense often goes by different names such as DUI and DWI. The bottom line is both are serious costly illegal offenses, but they actually vary slightly. Read on to find out how DUI and DWI differ and how they affect your car insurance.

How are DUIs and DWIs determined

DUIs and DWIs are offenses committed by drivers who violate impaired driving laws. A driver may get a DUI or DWI if they are driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. A police officer may be able to recognize impaired driving based on the driver’s behavior. Key indicators are speeding or erratic driving.

DUIs or DWIs can also be issued if a driver is pulled over for a routine reason, such as a taillight that is out, and the police officer has suspicion of impaired driving. Police officers typically check the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) with a breathalyzer test, but they may also issue a DUI or DWI without one if the driver had dangerous driving behavior or failed a field sobriety test.

While the federal legal limit for BAC is 0.08 percent, drivers can be arrested for a DUI or DWI with a lower BAC depending on their age, the specific laws in their state and their driving behavior.


DUI and DWI are both acronyms that mean essentially the same thing but have slight differences depending on the state. Both involve illegally driving with alcohol or drugs in the bloodstream and are subject to criminal punishment.

  • DUI stands for driving under the influence
  • DWI stands for driving while impaired/intoxicated

In some states, a DUI is the same thing as a DWI. But in other states, they’re classified as two different illegal acts.

In the states that classify them separately, a DUI is typically a lesser charge and lower blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time the driver is arrested. In states that separate them, drivers who are convicted of a DWI may be able to reduce their conviction to a DUI in a plea bargain in certain instances. Usually, the BAC of the driver must be below 0.08 percent and/ or it must be the driver’s first offense.

To make it even more confusing, some states refer to driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs something completely different. In Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine the term OUI is used, meaning operating under the influence. But in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, the term OWI is used, meaning operating while impaired or intoxicated. Some of the other ones used are:

  • DWAI stands for driving while ability impaired
  • OVI stands for operating vehicle impaired
  • DUII stands for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

How DUI and DWIs differ by state

Not only do states refer to the offense of driving while impaired different things, there are also key differences in the laws around them, as some states have stricter laws than others. While the federal legal blood alcohol content limit is 0.08 percent, some states may enforce punishment even if it’s lower than that.

Drunk driving punishments vary greatly by state and by the case. Typically, penalties are more severe if the driver’s BAC was high or if the driver was involved in an accident in which someone was injured or killed. Penalties for DUIs include jail time, community service, fines and fees, license suspension and installation of an ignition interlock device (IID).

An IID requires drivers to take a breathalyzer before starting their car, and it prevents the vehicle from starting if the device detects alcohol. Depending on the state, some states may require a driver to have an IID after a DUI in certain cases. Likewise, the length of jail time, amount of fees, length of license suspension and amount of community service hours all vary by state and by case.

Some states also have additional offenses and titles for crimes of driving while intoxicated or impaired in the presence of children or under age. A legal BAC may be stricter for commercial drivers as well.

Zero tolerance for drunk driving

All states have zero tolerance for drunk driving laws that apply to underage teens under the age of 21 being charged with a DUI offense. Not only is underage drinking illegal, but about a quarter of all teen deaths by fatal car crashes involve an underaged driver under the influence of alcohol, according to the NHTSA. Any underage driver with a BAC over 0.00 percent can get a DUI.

How does a DUI affect car insurance

A DUI or DWI greatly affects auto insurance. Car insurance after a DUI is much more expensive, costing three to five times more per month than a policy for a driver with a clean record. That amounts to thousands of dollars a year.

Additionally, a driver’s license may be revoked or suspended after a DUI. This will likely require an SR-22 form to be filed with the state. An SR-22 is a form often required for a driver to get their licence reinstated after its been revoked or suspended because of a DUI. It’s a certificate of financial responsibility that guarantees to the state that the driver has at least the minimum insurance required by the state. The only way to get an SR-22 is through an insurance company.

A DUI or similar offense is extremely expensive after all of the fees and fines. It’s estimated to cost a driver upwards of more $10,000 in fines and legal fees, but it could even cost much more depending on the state the driver lives in. Be a responsible driver to avoid this costly and dangerous mistake and keep your driving record clean.

If you find yourself in this situation, your insurance will significantly increase, so it may be time for you to shop around for a new car insurance company to try to find the best price. Check out the best SR-22 car insurance companies in your state, and read reviews to see if the company is a good fit for you.

The content on this site is offered only as a public service to the web community and does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. This site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an insurance company or an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. You should always consult a suitably qualified attorney regarding any specific legal problem or matter. The comments and opinions expressed on this site are of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the insurance company or any individual attorney.

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