What's the difference between DUI and DWI?
DUI vs. DWI
The definitions of DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Impaired) vary depending on the state. Federal laws don't distinguish between the two, as there isn't a nationwide definition of either violation. In fact, many states define and punish DUI and DWI offenses differently, and the two violations often refer to similar-but-separate driving behaviors. This can make it challenging to understand the nuances between a DUI and DWI. The below breakdown lays the groundwork to define DUI and DWI broadly. For actionable advice, consult a legal professional such as an experienced DUI or DWI defense attorney.
Differences between a DUI and DWI
A DUI offense occurs when someone drives with alcohol in their bloodstream. While the federal legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit is 0.08%, some states may pursue a DUI charge at BAC levels of 0.01%, depending on the driver's age. In some states, a DUI can be issued without the officer checking BAC via breathalyzer. In some cases, a DUI can be charged based on erratic driving behavior, the suspicion of the influence of alcohol, or a field sobriety test.
Some states define a DWI as Driving While Intoxicated — in those instances, there is no difference between a DUI and DWI charge. In those states that recognize them as separate charges, DWI generally refers to driving while impaired by drugs — either prescribed or recreational.
Which is worse: DUI or DWI?
In a state that recognizes DUI and DWI as separate offenses, a DWI is usually the more serious charge. Some states offer the opportunity to reduce a charge from a DWI to a DUI if it's a driver's first drug or alcohol-related offense, and their BAC was below 0.08%. Each of these violations is serious, and difficult to overturn if the officer had reason to pull the driver over — or if a breathalyzer or field sobriety test proves inebriation.
Do DUIs and DWIs raise insurance rates?
According to The Zebra's 2022 State of Insurance Report, a DUI charge could increase your rates by 61.9%, or $946. As insurers reevaluate your risk, a DUI or DWI violation can cost you thousands of dollars over three or more years. This can make it very challenging to find cheap car insurance after the incident.
One — or more — of the below consequences occurs after a DUI or DWI offense:
- Loss or temporary suspension of license (which can lead to you requiring an SR-22 to restore it)
- Mandated community service.
- Monetary fine.
- Increased car insurance costs — or loss of coverage.
- Jail time.
- Ignition interlock device installation (the breathalyzer ensures the driver has a. 0.0% BAC in order to start the car).
Auto insurance data methodology
The auto insurance rates published in this guide are based on the results of The Zebra's State of Insurance car insurance pricing analysis. This analysis of more than 83 million insurance rates spans every U.S. ZIP code, using a sample user profile: a 30-year-old single male driver with a Honda Accord, good credit and full coverage at these levels:
- $50,000 per person/$100,000 per incident for bodily injury liability
- $50,000 per incident for property damage liability
- $500 deductibles for collision and comprehensive coverage
To generate pricing for particular rating factors, we adjusted the driving profile based on common pricing factors used by major car insurance companies. These factors include credit score, coverage level, driving record and others.
In some instances, average rates from Liberty Mutual were derived from internally sourced sales data.
Based on The Zebra's database of insurance rates, the most affordable car insurance company after a DUI is Progressive. Of course, you should gather personalized quotes to see which company is cheapest for you given the uniqueness of individual driver profiles. Use the form below to compare rates from many companies at once and find the best coverage for your circumstances.
Weigh your options and get the best value from your next insurance policy.
Other Impaired Driving Acronymns
In addition to DUI and DWI, other terms related to driving under the influence of a substance exist. Each of these charges means the driver was exhibiting dangerous behavior while behind the wheel of a vehicle. Remember, a driver can be charged after failing a field sobriety test, even with a BAC below the state's legal limit. Some of the more common acronyms are:
- DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired): Occurs when a driver's BAC is between .05% and .07% (New York, Colorado) or their driving is impaired by THC (Colorado)
- DUAC (Driving With an Unlawful Alcohol Concentration): Used in place of a DWI and is charged when BAC equals .08% or more
- OUI (Operating under the influence): often used interchangeably with DUI (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin)
- OWI (Operating while intoxicated) (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin)
- OWVI (Operating While Visibly Impaired): applies to any substance that can impair your ability to drive a vehicle (Michigan)
Regardless of the letters used, any of these charges will have significant impacts on your driving record and ability to obtain affordable insurance easily.
DUI statistics in the US
The legal and financial consequences of being charged with a DUI or DWI are severe, for good reason. In 2020, the NHTSA reported a death every 45 minutes due to drunk driving. The statistics are hard to overlook:
- Over 1 million drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics each year (FBI)
- Drivers aged 21 to 24 and 25 to 34 were involved in the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2020. (NHTSA)
- About 30% of all fatal accidents involve alcohol. (NHTSA)
- Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities increased by over 18% between 2011 and 2020. (NHTSA)
- For every 100,000 Americans under the age of 21, 1.2 people were killed in drunk driving fatalities in 2016 (NHTSA)
- In 2010, the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion. (NHTSA)
- Over 55% of people involved in serious or fatal road accidents test positive for drugs or alcohol. Drugs other than alcohol — legal and illegal — are involved in about 16% of motor vehicle crashes. (NHTSA)
See our article discussing Drunk Driving Statistics for even more information.
DUI/DWI laws by state
DUI vs. DWI: Texas
Texas is a zero-tolerance state. Only minors under the age of 21 can be charged with the less-serious DUI offense. If a minor is found driving with any alcohol in their system, they can be charged — even if it’s below the federal legal limit.
For those over 21, being charged with a DWI carries much more serious consequences. As part of the Texas Penal Code, all that is required to be charged with a DWI is a BAC over 0.08% or visibly driving while impaired.
DUI vs. DWI: Minnesota
In Minnesota, DWI, DUI, and drunk driving all refer to the same charge. All these terms refer to the act of driving while impaired, either that be under alcohol, prescribed or hazardous substances. However, your BAC must be above the legal limit to result in a charge, while any amount of substance in your system qualifies to be charged.
If you refuse a BAC test or breathalyzer on site, then you can be further charged with criminal and Minnesota DPS administrative penalties.
DUI vs. DWI: North Carolina
There is only the one charge in North Carolina: DWI. However, within that specific charge, North Carolina assigns multiple levels of severity, ranging from Aggravated 1 (most severe) to Level 5 (least severe). These offenses will stay on your record permanently, unless you legally expunge them.
Under North Carolina law, the car does not have to be in motion for the driver to be charged with a DUI. In North Carolina, a driver can pass a breathalyzer test but can still be charged if the arresting officer witnesses behavior indicating intoxication.
DUI vs. DWI: Maryland
There’s a notable difference between DWI vs. DUI charges in Maryland, primarily having to do with the age of the driver. A DWI is only given to minors under the age of 21, and a DUI is for older drivers. However, all ages can receive a “wet reckless” charge which is a conviction of reckless driving involving alcohol, but generally this is a result of a lowering of a DUI charge.
DUI vs. DWI: Illinois
The state of Illinois is unique because the state government only recognizes DUI, a “driving under the influence” charge. In Illinois, there is no such thing as a DWI — driving while intoxicated, or driving while impaired. This especially applies to minors: Illinois is a zero-tolerance state. If someone under than the age of 21 is caught driving with any alcohol in their system, they will be arrested for DUI. Consequences for getting a DUI in Illinois include driver's license revocation.
DUI vs. DWI: New York
New York has some unique laws related to drinking and driving. The Empire State's two “drunk driving” charges are DWI and DWAI. DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated,” while DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired.” A DWAI specifically refers to the substance impairing the driver and furthermore, a DWAI means that the driver’s BAC is between 0.05% and 0.07%, or it’s not obvious the driver is impaired. Because of this, a DWAI is typically a less severe charge than a DWI. Both a DWI and DWAI are criminal charges and can result in jail time, fines, or even license revocation.
DUI vs. DWI: California
California is a zero-tolerance state for minors. It also is one of many states with implied consent laws. Simply put, if you have an active driver’s license, you are subject to a BAC test if the arresting officer suspects impairment. If you test above the legal limit, you will be charged with a DUI, which can stay on your record for up to 10 years (in most states this is only 3-5 years). If you are found to be under the influence of drugs while operating a vehicle, then you can be charged with a DWI.
DUI vs. DWI: Virginia
Another state with no legal difference between DUI and DWI, Virginia uses both charges interchangeably. However, in court proceedings, an individual charged with a DWI generally will be considered to have had a BAC above the legal limit at the time of the arrest. In Virginia, drivers can be charged even if the vehicle is not in motion. If an individual is in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition, then they can be charged with a DWI.
DUI vs. DWI: Arizona
DUI and DWI charges can be tricky in Arizona. Each is related to consuming alcohol while driving a vehicle. DWI (driving while intoxicated) refers only to intoxication by alcohol. DUI (driving under the influence) refers to the offense of having both alcohol and drugs in an individual’s system. A DWI is more severe, as it often has to be accompanied by a test to prove, in no uncertain terms, that the driver was intoxicated.
DUI vs. DWI: Missouri
While there is no legal difference between a DUI and DWI in Missouri, local law includes a separate impaired driving classification: DUID. DUID stands for “driving under the influence of drugs,” and can be given if the officer believes the driver is under the influence of any drugs.
DUI vs. DWI: Arkansas
Drunk driving laws in Arkansas are relatively unique. Minors can be charged with an “underage DWI” when their BAC is above 0.02% but below 0.08%. Minors and of-age drivers alike can only be charged with a DWI, and Arkansas law prevents the “pleading down” of a DWI. Arkansas is an implied consent state: if an officer orders a BAC test, the driver must agree or face further legal consequences.
DUI vs. DWI: Colorado
As Colorado is a state that has legalized the recreational use of marijuana, impaired driving laws are very specific. As opposed to focusing either charge on alcohol or drugs, Colorado’s laws include a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both) and a DWAI (driving while ability impaired). To be charged with a DUI, the evidence must be proven via a physical test showing BAC of 0.08% or higher. DWAI is a lesser offense — to be charged, your blood alcohol content must be above 0.05%, and the officer can make the charge on behavior alone.
Decide which car insurance policy is right for you.
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About The Zebra
The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.
- The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.
- The Zebra’s insurance editorial content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.
- The Zebra’s editorial team operates independently of the company’s partnerships and commercialization interests, publishing unbiased information for consumer benefit.
- The auto insurance rates published on The Zebra’s pages are based on a comprehensive analysis of car insurance pricing data, evaluating more than 83 million insurance rates from across the United States.