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DUI vs. DWI: What’s the difference?

DUI and DWI Definitions

Different states have different penalties for different types of DUIs and DWIs on your record, and the punishments for each will be different, too. A DWI is when you drive while you’re drunk, and a DUI is when you drive while you’re under the influence. These can be very different things depending on where they happen. However, whether a driver is charged with DUI or DWI, the damage to their driving record will likely be the same.

Every two hours, three people are killed in an alcohol-related car accident on the highway. The number of people arrested for DUIs and DWIs in 2010 was one of the highest for major crimes, with more than 1.4 million arrests. This is even more disturbing.

DUI and DWI Definitions

DUIs and DWIs have slightly different connotations: A DUI is a driving under the influence charge, whereas a DWI is a driving while intoxicated or impaired charge. A DUI charge could indicate that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It should be noted that the drugs do not have to be illegal. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also result in a DUI charge if the user becomes impaired as a result of using them.

Whether you’re charged with a DUI or a DWI, the charge is only brought against you if a law enforcement officer determines you were too impaired to drive.

While the terminology differences may appear to be a game of semantics, the true differences between these two charges are ultimately determined by the state in which the incident occurred and the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits set. DUI and DWI laws differ from state to state. In fact, some states use entirely different terminology to charge someone who has driven while intoxicated.

OUI vs. OWI

Drivers in some states may be charged with either an OUI or an OWI. An OUI stands for operating while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, whereas an OWI stands for operating while intoxicated. Currently, five states use such language when charging drivers with related offenses:

  • Indiana: OWI
  • Iowa: OWI
  • Maine: OUI
  • Massachusetts: OUI
  • Michigan: OWI

State-by-state differences

The consequences of a DUI or DWI differ from state to state. In fact, depending on where you live, the legal limit for intoxication can vary significantly. For example, while most states will charge a driver with DUI if their blood-alcohol content (BAC) level is greater than 0.08%, Utah will charge a driver with DUI if their BAC is greater than 0.05%. Furthermore, in many states, penalties can be increased if your BAC is greater than 0.15%.

A DUI or DWI offense will almost always result in a license suspension as well as mandatory alcohol education and treatment. The length of your license suspension varies depending on whether it’s your first, second, or third offense and whether it’s your first, second, or third offense. For example, if you are charged with DUI for the first time in Alaska, you could face a 90-day license suspension, whereas in Connecticut, the same charge could result in a one-year license suspension. Depending on where you live, your vehicle may even be impounded or an ignition interlock device installed.

State Type First offense Second offense Subsequent offenses
Alabama DUI Fines of up to $2,100, jail for up to a year, and/or a 90-day license suspension Up to $5,100 in fines, up to a year in jail, and 45-day minimum license suspension Imprisonment of at least one year and up to 10 years; Fine of at least $4,000 and up to $10,000; and A mandatory five-year license revocation.
Alaska DUI Minimum fine of $1,500, 72 hours in jail, and minimum license suspension of 90 days 20 day imprisonment, minimum $3,000 fine, and license suspension for minimum of one year (within 15 years of the first DUI) 60 day imprisonment, minimum $4,000 fine, and license suspension for minimum of three years (within 15 years of the second DUI)
Arizona DUI Minimum fine of $250 and up to 10 days in jail $500 base fine and up to 90 days in jail $750 base fine and 4 month minimum incarceration
Arkansas DUI, DWI Fines of up to $1,000, jail for up to a year, a 6-month license suspension, and alcohol treatment Up to $3,000 in fines, up to a year in jail, 2-year license suspension, and alcohol treatment Maximum penalty considered a felony
California DUI Fines of up to $1,000, up to 6 months in jail, a 6-month license suspension, and DUI school Up to $1,000 in fines, up to a year in jail, one year license suspension, and DUI school or SB 38 Up to $1,000 in fines, up to a year in jail, 2 years license suspension, and traffic school
Colorado DUI Fines of up to $1,000, jail for up to one year, license suspension for nine months, community service, and DMV points Up to $1,500 in fines, up to one year in jail, one year license suspension, community service, and DMV points Up to $1,500 in fines, up to one year in jail, 2 year license suspension, community service, and DMV points
Connecticut DUI Fines of up to $1,000; prison for up to a year Up to $1,000 in fines; up to 2 years in prison Up to $1,000 in fines; up to 3 years in prison
Delaware DUI Minimum fine of $1,500, up to one year in jail, and license suspension for up to two years $2,500 minimum fine, minimum 18 months in jail, and up to 30 months license suspension $2,500 minimum fine, minimum 18 months in jail, and up to 30 months license suspension
District of Columbia DUI, DWI Fines of up to $1,000, jail for up to 180 days, and license suspension for up to six months Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, and up to one year license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, and up to 2 years license suspension
Florida DUI Fines of up to $1,000, jail for up to 6 months, and license suspension for up to three years Up to $2,000 in fines, up to 9 months in jail, and up to 5 years license suspension Up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, and up to 10 years license suspension
Georgia DUI Minimum fines of $300, up to ten days in jail, license suspension, and community service Minimum $1,000 in fines, up to 1 year in jail, one year license suspension, community service Minimum $5,000 in fines, up to 1 year in jail, 5 years license suspension, community service
Hawaii DUI, DWI Minimum fine of $1,000, up to 5 days in jail, one-year license suspension, community service, and rehab Minimum $3,000 in fines, up to 30 days in jail, 3 years license suspension, community service, rehab Minimum $5,000 in fines, minimum 10 days in jail, up to 5 year license suspension, community service, rehab
Idaho DUI Minimum $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, three month license suspension Minimum $2,000 in fines, up to five years in jail, one year license suspension Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 10 years in jail, up to five years license suspension
Illinois DUI Maximum $2,500 in fines, maximum one year in jail, one-year license suspension, community service Maximum $2,500 in fines, maximum one year in jail, 5 years license suspension, community service Maximum $25,000 in fines, maximum 7 years in jail, 10 years license suspension, community service
Indiana DUI Up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, and up to 180 days license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 3 years in jail, and up to 2 years license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 3 years in jail, and up to 10 years license suspension
Iowa DUI, DWI, OWI Up to $1,250 in fines, up to one year in jail, and up to one year license suspension Up to $6,250 in fines, up to 2 years in jail, and up to 2 years license suspension Up to $9,375 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, and up to 6 years license suspension
Kansas DUI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 2 days in jail, 90 day license suspension, and alcohol treatment Up to $1,500 in fines, up to one year in jail, one year license suspension, and alcohol treatment Up to $2,500 in fines, up to one year in jail, one year license suspension, and alcohol treatment
Kentucky DUI, DWI Up to $500 in fines, up to 30 days in jail, 120 day license suspension, community service, rehab Up to $500 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, 18 month license suspension, community service, rehab Up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, 36 month license suspension, community service, rehab
Louisiana DUI, DWI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, community service, rehab Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, community service, rehab Up to $2,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, community service, rehab
Maine DUI, DWI Up to $500 in fines and up to 150 days license suspension Up to $900 in fines, 12 days in jail, and up to 3 year license suspension Up to $1,400 in fines, up to 40 days in jail, and up to 6 years license suspension
Maryland DUI, DWI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, and up to 6 month license suspension Up to $2,000 in fines, up to 2 years in jail, and up to one year license suspension Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, and up to one year license suspension
Massachusetts DUI Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 2.5 years in jail, and up to 90 day license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 2.5 years in jail, and up to 2 year license suspension Up to $15,000 in fines, up to 2.5 years in jail, and up to 8 years license suspension
Michigan OWI, OWVI Up to $500 in fines, up to 93 days in jail, community service Up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, community service Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, community service
Minnesota DUI Up to $3,000 in fines, up to one year in jail Up to $3,000 in fines, up to one year in jail Up to $14,000 in fines, up to 7 years in jail for felony
Mississippi DUI, DWI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 48 hours in jail, up to one year license suspension, and driver education Up to $1,500 in fines, up to 1 year in jail, and up to 2 year license suspension, community service, rehab Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, and up to 5 year license suspension, community service
Missouri DUI, DWI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to 30 day license suspension Up to $2,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 5 years license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 4 years in jail, up to 10 year license suspension
Montana DUI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to 6 month license suspension, rehab, driver education Up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to one year license suspension, rehab, driver education Up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to one year license suspension, rehab, driver education
Nebraska DUI, DWI Up to $500 in fines, up to 60 days in jail, up to 6 months license suspension Up to $500 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, up to 18 month license suspension Up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 15 year license suspension
Nevada DUI, DWI Up to $400 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, minimum 185 day license suspension Up to $750 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, one year license suspension Up to $2,000 in fines, up to 6 years in jail, 3 years license suspension
New Hampshire DUI, DWI Up to $1.200 in fines, minimum 2 year license suspension Up to $2,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, minimum 3 year license suspension Up to $2,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, lifetime license suspension
New Jersey DUI, DWI Up to $500 in fines, up to 30 days in jail, minimum 3 month license suspension, driver education, community service Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 90 days in jail, minimum 2 year license suspension, driver education, community service Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, minimum 10 year license suspension, driver education, community service
New Mexico DUI, DWI Up to $500 in fines, up to 90 days in jail, community service Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 364 days in jail, community service Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 364 days in jail, community service
New York DUI Up to $2,500 in fines, up to one year in jail, minimum one year license suspension Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 4 years in jail, minimum 18 month license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 7 years in jail, minimum 19 month license suspension
North Carolina DUI, DWI Level-based Level-based Level-based
North Dakota DUI Up to $750 in fines, up to 2 days in jail, minimum 3 month license suspension, community service, rehab Up to $1,500 in fines, up to 10 days in jail, minimum one year license suspension, community service, rehab Up to $2,000 in fines, up to 120 days in jail, minimum one year license suspension, community service, rehab
Ohio DUI, DWI Up to $1,075 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to 3 years license suspension Up to $1,625 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to 7 years license suspension Up to $2,750 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 12 years license suspension
Oklahoma DUI, DWI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 180 days license suspension Up to $2,500 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 10 years in jail, up to 3 years license suspension
Oregon DUI, DUII Up to $6,250 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $10.000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 3 years license suspension Up to $125,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to permanent license suspension
Pennsylvania DUI Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to 18 months license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to 18 months license suspension
Rhode Island DUI Over $1,200 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to one year license suspension, community service, rehab Over $1,750 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 2 years license suspension, community service, rehab Over $5,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to 3 year license suspension, community service, rehab
South Carolina DUI, DUAC Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 90 days in jail, 6 month license suspension Up to $6,500 in fines, up to 3 years in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to 4 year license suspension
South Dakota DUI, DWI Up to $2,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $2,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, minimum one year license suspension Up to $4,000 in fines, up to 2 years in jail, minimum one year license suspension
Tennessee DUI Up to $1,500 in fines, up to 7 days in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $3,500 in fines, up to nearly one year in jail, up to 2 years license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to nearly one year in jail, up to 10 year license suspension
Texas DUI, DWI Up to $4,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to one year license suspension Up to $4,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 2 years license suspension Up to $10,000 in fines, up to 10 years in jail, up to 2 years license suspension
Utah DUI, DWI Up to $1,310 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, up to 120 day license suspension Up to $1,560 in fines, up to 10 days in jail, up to 2 year license suspension Up to $2,580 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, up to 2 years license suspension
Vermont DUI, DWI Up to $750 in fines, up to 2 years in jail Up to $1,500 in fines, up to 2 years in jail Up to $2,500 in fines, up to 5 years in jail
Virginia DUI, DWI Up to $2,500 in fines, up to one year in jail, one year license suspension Up to $2,500 in fines up to one year in jail, 3 year license suspension Up to $2,500 in fines, up to 180 days in jail, indefinite license suspension
Washington DUI Up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 2 year license suspension, rehab Up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 3 year license suspension, rehab Up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, up to 4 year license suspension, rehab
West Virginia DUI Up to $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, up to 6 months license suspension Up to $3,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, 10 year license suspension Up to $5,000 in fines, up to 5 years in jail, permanent license suspension
Wisconsin OWI Up to $300 in fines Up to $1,100 in fines, up to 6 months in jail Up to $2,000 in fines, up to one year in jail
Wyoming DUI, DWI Up to $750 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, 90 day license suspension Up to $750 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, one year license suspension Up to $3,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, 3 year license suspension

Will a DUI or DWI affect my insurance rates?

Your insurance rates will inevitably rise if you receive a DUI or DWI. In some cases, you may be dropped entirely from your policy. The amount of your insurance premium increase is largely determined by your insurance carrier. However, in most cases, your insurance rates will double or triple from what they were previously.

You may be required to obtain an SR-22 after receiving a DUI or DWI, depending on your insurance carrier’s and/or your state’s requirements. An SR-22 is a certificate of financial responsibility that certifies that you are currently meeting your state’s car insurance requirements and will continue to do so for a specified period of time (typically three years). These are usually required when a driver is attempting to reactivate a suspended license after being charged with a DUI or DWI.

Frequently asked questions

Will I go to jail if I receive a DUI or DWI?

It is determined by the state in which you reside. Drivers convicted of a DUI or DWI in Pennsylvania may face no jail time, whereas convicted drivers in Vermont may face up to two years in jail. If you’ve recently been charged with a DUI or DWI, check your state’s laws to see what penalties you could face.

How long do DUIs and DWIs stay on your driving record?

Again, this is determined by the state where the offense occurred. A DUI or DWI will usually stay on your driving record for three to five years. In stricter states, such as California, the offense may remain on your record for ten years.

What is the legal limit for blood-alcohol content?

The federal legal limit for blood-alcohol content (BAC) in the United States is 0.08%. It is important to note, however, that if you are under the age of 21, you will face serious penalties if you have a BAC of even 0.01% – regardless of your state’s laws.

What happens if I fail a breathalyzer test?

If you refuse a breathalyzer test, you will almost certainly be charged with DUI or DWI. However, if you pass the breathalyzer test but fail the field sobriety test, you could be charged.


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Dom Lucre

Dom Lucre