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Which is worse DUI or DWI?

The criminal charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence(DUI) are often used interchangeably, but in some states, there is a distinct difference between the two. As the terms imply, one charge is driving under the influence, while the other is driving while intoxicated, with the second sometimes being more serious than the former.

In states that classify DWI and DUI separately, usually a DUI charge is the lesser of the two as it is indicative of a lesser degree of impairment as compared to DWI. DUI can also mean driving under the influence of drugs, which is also taken very seriously. During a stop, police officers are now able to request a Drug Recognition Expert to determine if a driver is impaired, and what drugs are involved.

Additionally, some states have other acronyms such as: operating under the influence (OUI), operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI), operating while intoxicated (OWI), driving while ability impaired (DWAI), operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OVUII), and driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). If you have been charged with any of these offenses, a criminal defense attorney will be able to help you navigate your own state’s laws.

DUI and DWI – What’s the Difference?

DUI or DWI charges are virtually the same in many states. Both describe criminal charges for the unlawful operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. If you live in a locale that classifies them discreetly, the charge usually depends on the driver’s BAC level at the time of the arrest–DUI is the lesser change, DWI the more serious.

Specific charges for alcohol-impaired driving vary depending on individual state laws. The category of drunk driving charge depends on a number of factors, including the age of the driver, type of vehicle, degree of intoxication, and whether or not property was damaged or injuries or fatalities occurred during an accident. In some jurisdictions, drivers can be charged with DUI even if they do not meet the .08% BAC threshold; commercial drivers can be convicted of DUI with a BAC of .04%; and for drivers under 21, any amount of alcohol can be grounds for a DUI arrest

You can avoid the potential stress, expense, and embarrassment of a DUI or DWI conviction by simply choosing not to drive your car after consuming alcohol. You can also carry a convenient and accurate BACtrack breathalyzer with you when you do drink.

For example, in Texas, if you have alcohol in your system, and especially if you have a BAC of 0.08% or above, you are arrested for DWI. You would only get a DUI if you were under 21 with any amount of alcohol in your system. In New York State, if you have a BAC of 0.08% or above, you would be charged with a DWI, while you would be arrested for DUI if your BAC was below 0.08%. Some states don’t make the distinction at all. In Illinois, for example, there is no DWI—only DUI.

A Simple Rule: If You Can Ride It, You can be Arrested for DUI/DWI

Drunk driving laws also apply to vehicles and transportation modes other than automobiles. In some states, charges may be filed according to the specific type of vehicle used, and convictions often carry lighter sentences. 

Depending on the jurisdiction, you can be arrested for driving, operating, piloting, or controlling the operation of the following if you are legally impaired:

  • Motorcycles 
  • Aircraft 
  • Boats and other watercraft 
  • Construction and farm  equipment (e.g., tractors and combines)
  • Bicycles 
  • Horses and horse-drawn vehicles

Seeking Legal Advice

There are many discrepancies between states when it comes to DUI and DWI laws. If you are facing this type of charge, contact a DUI/DWI lawyer immediately. A lawyer in your area can help build your case and determine your best course of action. Your attorney may also be able to negotiate a lesser charge, and will represent your best interests in court.