DUI vs. DWI: What’re the Legal Differences?

The terms DUI vs. DWI are often lumped together as being the same thing. Because driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated sounding like such similar concepts, it’s easy to understand why someone could make the assumption that they’re the same thing.

For most people, it seems like knowing the difference between the two isn’t something that ever comes up as need-to-know information.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where understanding the difference is necessary, it’s good to have some general background knowledge.

Keep reading to learn more:

The Basics of DUI versus DWI

The charges of both driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated are issued to individuals who are operating motor vehicles while impaired in one way or another. While usually this means operating a car or truck, it can also apply to motorcycles, golf carts, or even vehicles like tractors.

Driving with a BAC higher than the legal limit, a BAC less than the legal limit but still enough to cause impairment, or driving while impaired due to drugs (legal or otherwise) can all land you with a criminal charge.

When talking about BAC, it’s referring to Blood Alcohol Content which in all 50 states the legal limit is .08 percent.

Both charges are series legal offenses and can result in a number of consequences from hefty fines to potential jail time.

What’s the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

The nuances between a DUI vs. DWI can be a little hard to understand. We’re here to break the two charges down and make it a little easier to wrap your head around.


DUI is the more commonly known term, though it isn’t necessarily the more common official charge.

The actions that fall under this term varies from state to state, but typically a DUI is the lesser of the two charges.

In most circumstances, the charge of a DUI will happen if you’re driving under the influence of alcohol with a BAC of under .08 percent. For the majority of states, the range for a DUI is a BAC of between .05 and .07 percent where it’s proven that the alcohol is impairing someone’s ability to drive.

You can also end up with a DUI charge if you’re driving under the influence of drugs as well. This is one of the main differences between a DUI vs. DWI.

Even if you’re taking a prescription medication, you could still face DUI charges if it impacts your driving in any way.


DWI is often times the more severe charge of the two.

If someone is being charged with a DWI, it is almost always because of intoxication due to alcohol. Especially if a person’s BAC is .10 percent or higher, a DWI is the most likely charge.

Under some circumstances, if a person’s BAC is over the legal limit, but intoxication is not clear with field sobriety tests, the individual is instead charged with a less severe DUI.

Simply Put:

The easy way to differentiate between the two is to think about a DUI relating to a person’s behavior and a DWI relating to the actual scientific evidence of a person’s intoxication (like their BAC).


The above isn’t always true for a DUI vs. DWI from state to state.

In some states, the DUI and DWI are both used to describe the same charges. In other states, they use either one term or the other, and the charges are for varying things.

The kind of vehicle you’re operating and your age can be factors in exceptions to the rule as well.

Someone who is under the legal drinking age of 21 in zero tolerance states will end up with a DUI if they’re found with a BAC of .01 or greater. If you’re underage and have been consuming any alcohol, your best bet is to avoid driving altogether due to this.

Operating under a Commercial Drivers License also brings about different rules for DUI and DWI charges.

Driving with a BAC of .04 percent or higher in most states can warrant a criminal charge while driving with a CDL.

Operating a vehicle that requires a CDL is another case in which you’re probably better off just not driving at all if you’ve had a drink.

Consequences of Either DUI vs. DWI

Just as there is a wide range of variation between what can land you with a DUI or DWI, there are a number of different consequences these charges can end with.

Between DUI vs. DWI charges, the severity of the consequences tends to increase with the number of offenses or with one of the exceptions mentioned earlier.

What Could Happen:

  • Fines ranging from $500 – $2000 or more. These are often combined with other consequences.
  • Fines are often paired with mandatory community service hours.
  • You could have your driver’s license suspended for a time ranging from 90 days at the lowest end and all the way up to three years for more severe or repeat offenders.
  • It’s possible that you could face up to 6 months of jail time.
  • In some states, people charged with a DUI or DWI have to take educational classes on drugs and alcohol or attend support groups or rehab for substance abuse.
  • With a DUI/DWI on your record, your insurance rates are likely to increase and stay high for years to come.
  • Occasionally these charges will follow you and hurt your chances of getting jobs, even if your position would have nothing to do with driving.

It’s hard to say exactly what will happen because the punishments can be so different on a case by case basis, so your best bet is avoiding it altogether.

DUI vs. DWI: Just Don’t Do Get Caught Up in Either

Rather than trying your luck with the legal system, just don’t drive if you’ve had alcohol or any drugs or medication that could impair your ability to drive.

If you’ve found yourself in the circumstances where it’s already too late, contact us. We may be able to help.

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