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The difference between DWI and DUI isn't always straightforward. Federal laws don't distinguish between the two offenses, 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. DUIs and DWIs often have financial and legal consequences, in both the private and public sectors. This can make it challenging to understand DUI and DWI meaning, as well as the nuances between the two. 

In 2019, a DUI charge could increase your rates by 71%, or $1,099. As insurers reevaluate your risk, a DUI or DWI violation can cost you $3,297 over a three-year period. This can make it very challenging to find cheap car insurance after the incident. 

Ramifications of impaired driving will likely stick around for years after the incident. As noted above, auto insurance rates will be impacted, but there can also be fines of several thousand dollars depending on the situation. Driver license suspension or revocation, and even jail time, are also very real possibilities. 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.

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Differences between DUI and DWI

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence. 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.

DWI means Driving While Impaired. 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.

In some places, you may also see the acronym DWAI - which means Driving While Ability Impaired. In New York and Colorado, a DWAI charge can occur if the BAC is between .05% and .07% and driving is visibly impaired. In Colorado, you can also be charged with DWAI if there is a certain amount of THC in your system. 

Additionally, in South Carolina, the charge of a DUAC (driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration) is used in place of a DWI and can also be charged when BAC is .08% or more.

Each of these charges means the driver was exhibiting dangerous behavior while behind the wheel of a vehicle. As in the DWAI example above, a driver can be charged after failing a field sobriety test, even with a BAC below the state's legal limit. The location of the offense has a significant impact on the legal outcome, as states with zero-tolerance policies may not differentiate between DUI and DWI violations.


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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, while a DUI is considered a lesser degree of impairment. 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.

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Do DUIs and DWIs raise insurance rates?

One — or more — of the below consequences occurs after a DUI or DWI offense: 

  • Loss or temporary suspension of license.
  • Mandated community service.
  • Monetary fine.
  • Increased car insurance costs — or loss of coverage.

After a DUI or DWI, the driver is sometimes required to install an ignition interlock device on the steering wheel of their personal vehicle. This built-in breathalyzer ensures the driver has a 0.0% BAC in order to start the car.

Company Avg. Annual Premium
Progressive $2,481
USAA $2,530
Farmers $2,558
State Farm $2,652
GEICO $3,230
Nationwide $3,464
Allstate $3,535
Updated: 01/26/23.

Dynamic auto insurance data methodology

Methodology: The auto insurance rates displayed above and throughout this page are dynamic, meaning the data will refresh when the most recent information is made available. Rates are based on a sample driver profile — a 30-year-old single male driver with a Honda Accord and full coverage. This profile was adjusted based on common pricing factors used by major car insurance companies, like age, coverage level, driving record and others.

Based on The Zebra's database of insurance rate data, 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. In order to apply for a new car insurance policy after a DUI, the offender may need to submit an SR-22 through his or her local DMV. An SR-22 is proof of insurance coverage, usually filed by an insurer on behalf of a driver (usually for a fee). If the insurance company does not submit an SR-22, the driver may be responsible for furnishing it. 

What is an OUI or an OWI?

Similar to DUI and DWI, much of the difference in these two acronyms really comes down to where you are. OUI and DUI are often used interchangeably, but your attorney can help you understand any subtle differences that may exist depending on which state you're in.

OUI: Operating under the influence (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin)

OWI: Operating while intoxicated (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts) 

In Michigan, you can also be charged with an OWVI - yet another acronym very closely related to the others, this stands for 'operating while visibly impaired.' This does not just apply to alcohol, but any substance that can impair your ability to drive a vehicle.  As mentioned under the DUI and DWI headings, regardless of the letters used, any of these charges will have significant impacts on your driving record and ability to obtain affordable insurance easily.  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.

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DUI statistics in the US

The legal and financial consequences of being charged with a DUI or DWI are severe, for good reason. In 2016, the NHTSA reported a death every 50 minutes due to drunk driving. The statistics are hard to overlook:

  • 1,017,808 drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • 32% of all alcohol-impaired crashes result in a fatality.
  • Drivers aged 25 to 34 were involved in the highest number of alcohol-impaired fatal crashes from 2007 to 2016.
  • 28% of all fatal accidents involved alcohol in 2016.
  • For every 100,000 Americans under the age of 21, 1.2 people were killed in drunk driving fatalities in 2016.
  • The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.
  • Drugs other than alcohol — legal and illegal — are involved in about 16% of motor vehicle crashes.

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 in texas

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.

IL dui

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.

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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 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.