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DUI vs. DWI: What’s the Difference?

Driving under the influence is a serious offense in America. In 2016, over 10,000 people were killed due to alcohol-impaired crashes across the United States. Drugs played a part in 16% of vehicle accidents.

What is the difference between a DUI vs DWI and how do police determine if you’re intoxicated behind the wheel? Let’s explore.


If you’re charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, you receive a DUI. DUIs are issued to those proven to be operating a vehicle with alcohol in their bloodstream. The federal legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) level is 0.08%.

DWI stands for Driving While Impaired or Driving While Intoxicated, depending on your state. Driving While Intoxicated is the same as a Driving Under the Influence.

Driving While Impaired, however, is slightly different. Impaired could mean alcohol, but it usually references drugs. The drugs may be recreational or prescribed.

In both a DUI and DWI charge, the driver must exhibit dangerous behavior behind the wheel. The nature of the offense depends on the state in which the charge is made. You should educate yourself on the laws of the state in which you live or will be driving in.

What Happens If You Get a DUI or DWI?

If you’re driving under the influence of anything that alters your mind, you run the risk of severe consequences. Police can pull you over if they have reason to believe you are impaired. This may be due to speeding, not remembering to use your turn signal, running a stop sign, or swerving out of your lane.

Once a cop has pulled you over, they can ask you to perform a field sobriety test. You may have to stand on one leg, walk a straight line, or follow a light with your eyes.

The office may give you a Breathalyzer test to determine your blood alcohol content. If you are driving under the influence of alcohol, this could lead to a DUI. If you’re driving under the influence of drugs, most recreational drugs will not show up in a breathalyzer test.

If the officer suspects you are driving under the influence of drugs, he or she may call a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to perform an analysis. Some officers are DREs themselves and may conduct further evaluations to determine if you are under any sort of altered state of mind. If the DRE decides you have drugs in your system, you will receive a DWI.

If you refuse to participate in a breathalyzer test, the officer may still convict you of a DUI or DWI if he or she has reason to suspect you are impaired.

What Are the Consequences of a DUI or DWI?

Depending on the state, a DUI or DWI may result in:

  • Suspension or loss of your driver’s license
  • Community service
  • Fines
  • Increased car insurance costs or loss of coverage altogether

The severity of your penalties determines on the state, your driving record, and the number of previous DUI or DWI charges you’ve encountered. If you’ve been charged with a DUI or DWI, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer. Learn more about DWI lawyers.

Keep Yourself Educated

As a driver, you should be aware of the road laws for the state in which you reside. It’s important to know the difference of a DUI vs DWI and the consequences you face when you receive one of these charges.