What is the difference between DUI and DWI?
It is illegal in every state to operate a motorized vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. This was not always the case. In fact, in the early 1980s, many states had much higher legal BAC limits; some state’s limits were as high as 0.15%. By 2004, however, all states had passed laws instituting the new current standards.
DUI vs. DWI
DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. It is by far the most common term used by states to describe intoxicated driving. DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. Other terms are used by other states and there may be slight differences between them, but they are generally minimal.
Other common terms used by different states include:
DUIL = driving under the influence of liquor
OMVI = Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated
OWI= Operating while intoxicated
OUI = Operating under the influence
What does the state have to prove for a DUI or DWI charge?
To prove DUI or DWI the state can either provide sufficient evidence that a driver was unable to safely operate their vehicle, regardless of their blood alcohol concentration level, or the state can provide evidence that a driver’s BAC was above the legal limit of 0.08%.
- Unable to safely operate a vehicle
Many drivers assume they cannot be arrested for drunken driving unless their BAC is above the legal limit. States, however, can charge drivers with DUI even if their BAC is under the legal limit, assuming they can prove the driver was not able to safely operate their motorized vehicle.
Unsafe vehicle operation may be evidence by any of the following: weaving, swerving, drifting, hitting another vehicle, unnecessary stopping, unnecessary accelerating, driving too slowly, not following street signs, driving the wrong direction, stopping and starting without cause, driving without headlights on at night, and tailgating.
Officers may witness any of these driving actions and gather enough additional evidence during the DUI stop to arrest a driver for DUI, regardless of their BAC levels.
Note: State laws may determine the evidence which must be provided to be considered “under the influence.” For instance, in the State of California, the state must prove the driver’s driving did not “show the same caution or care as a sober person in a similar situation.” Other states, however, require the prosecution to prove the driver was impaired “to an appreciable degree.”
- BAC is above the legal limit
Drivers may also be arrested for DUI or DWI if their blood alcohol intoxication levels are above the legal limit (0.08% in all states or 0.01% for those under 21 years of age in many states).
This type of charge is referred to as a DUI per se and does not require the state to prove that the alcohol impaired the driver’s ability to operate a motorized vehicle. In fact, drivers can be convicted of a DUI per se violation even if their driving was perfect, assuming the state properly administered the chemical test and the driver’s BAC was above the legal limit.
What should I do if I am charged with DUI or DWI?
Regardless of what acronym is used by your state, if you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs this is considered a very serious charge. Although you may or may not serve a jail sentence for a first time DUI, the penalties are very severe.
For example, first time DWI offenders in Texas will be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor and will have to pay a fine up to $2,000. They will also be required to serve a jail term for 72 hours up to 6 months, perform at least 24 hours of community service, perform an alcohol and drug evaluation, attend a DWI education class, and attend and complete a Victim Impact Panel. Insurance premiums will also rise substantially.
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