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OWI vs DUI: the Degrees of Drunk Driving

The most responsible person may make one poor decision and end up with an OWI or DUI. One false step is all it takes. The legal limit for drinking and driving in all 50 states is .08% blood alcohol content (BAC) with the exception of Utah where it is .05%. If you get a DUI based on your BAC level, this is called a “per se DUI.”

Drunk driving laws and penalties vary by state. Here are a few examples. In addition to a more serious offense, New York has a less serious drunk driving offense called “driving while ability impaired” or “DWAI.” OUI or “operating under the influence” is used in only three states: Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A person can be convicted of a DUI in Colorado for operating a vehicle while substantially impaired and for the lesser charge, DWAI, for driving while ability impaired.

As you can expect, a second-offense OWI or DUI will be penalized more harshly than a first offense for drinking and driving. Car insurance rates go up after you get an OWI or DUI, too, and you may even need to file an SR-22 form once you get your insurance.

OWI and DUI are two of the most common drunk driving offenses. OWI stands for “operating while intoxicated.” And a DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” But OWI and DUI are not the only drunk driving offenses. Remember these exist too:

  • OVI = Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated
  • OMVI = Operating a Motor Vehicle While Impaired
  • DUII = Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants
  • DUII-CS = Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants: Controlled Substances
  • DWI = Driving While Intoxicated
  • ADWI = Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated

Not all insurers will weigh a drunk driving offense the same way. SmartFinancial partners with several insurance companies that are more lenient with OWI and DUI charges, so comparing rates is a good idea.

OWI vs DUI

First, let’s see what the difference is with OWI vs. DUI, because they are often used interchangeably. Most states use either OWI or DUI but usually not both when referring to drunk driving laws. An OWI charge is more severe than a DUI charge. It means that you were tested and proved well over the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit.

In some cases, an attorney can reduce an OWI charge to a DUI charge. In some states, charges are more severe than others and you can be charged with an OWI for simply being seated behind the wheel of a car when it’s not moving.

There are differences in how states interpret these acronyms. In California, a DUI conviction would mean three years of probation, fines of $300 to $2,000, attending a 30-hour DUI school and a six-month driver’s license suspension. In Florida, you could face fines up to $1,000, up to six months in jail and 50 hours of community service. In Virginia, with a DUI you could face a fine up to $2,500, jail time up to one year, at least one year suspension of your driver’s license and alcohol education classes.

Leniency towards first-time offenders is not very common anymore when it comes to drunk driving laws, regardless of which terminology your state uses. So be prepared to pay a high price for drinking and driving.

OWI vs DUI by State

Alabama. For a first offense DUI in Alabama, you face up to one year in jail or a fine ranging from $600 to $2,100 or both. In Alabama, a motorist can get a DUI without actually driving or having the car in motion. You simply need to be intoxicated and in “actual physical control” of the vehicle.

Alaska. Penalties for a first-time offender of a OUI in Alaska are at least 72 hours in jail and a fine of at least $1,500. In addition, your driver’s license will be revoked for at least 90 days.

Arizona. For a first-time DUI offense in Arizona, you will be jailed not less than 10 consecutive days and fined not less than $1,250. In Arizona, you can get a DUI even if you’re not driving. Actual physical control of a vehicle is enough to warrant a DUI charge if you’ve been drinking.

Arkansas. For a first offense DWI in Arkansas, you receive a 24-hour to one year jail sentence, although public service may be ordered in lieu of jail, a $150 to $1,000 fine, plus $300 court cost and a six-month license suspension. In Arkansas, you don’t need to be driving a car to get a DWI. Having actual physical control of a vehicle and being intoxicated is enough for a DWI arrest.

California. A first-time DUI conviction in California would mean three years of probation, fines of $300 to $2,000, attending a 30-hour DUI school and a six-month driver’s license suspension.

Colorado. With a first DUI offense in Colorado you would face five days to one year in jail, a fine of $600 to $1,000, a driver’s license revocation period of up to nine months and 48 to 96 hours of community service. In Colorado, a person can be convicted of a DUI without actually driving the vehicle. As long as the driver exercised actual physical control, he or she could be convicted of a DUI if intoxicated.

Connecticut. In Connecticut, a first OUI offense would mean a $500 to $1,000 fine and 30 days to one year in jail. In Connecticut if you are in physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated, you could be arrested for an OUI charge even without driving the car. Being inside a vehicle and having possession of car keys is enough to arrest you on OUI.

Delaware. For a first DUI offense in Delaware, you could face up to 12 months in jail and a fine between $500 and $1,500. In Delaware, you can get charged with DUI without running the car’s engine or having the car moving. You only need to be in actual physical control of the car and be intoxicated.

Florida. Penalties for a first DUI in Florida are fines up to $1,000, up to six months in jail and 50 hours of community service. In Florida, you don’t have to be driving a car to get a DUI. Being in actual physical control of the vehicle and being intoxicated is enough for a DUI arrest.

Georgia. A first DUI offense in Georgia carries the following penalties: 12 months of probation, a minimum fine of $300 plus court costs, and between one and 10 days in jail. The jail time may be waived. In Georgia, a parked car can result in DUI charges if the driver is intoxicated. The car doesn’t need to be moving for a DUI arrest.

Hawaii. In Hawaii, with a first DUI offense you would face a one-year license revocation, a 14-hour rehabilitation program, 72 hours of community service, 48 hours to five days of jail time and a $250 to $1,000 in fines.

Idaho. A first DUI offense in Idaho carries the following penalties: up to one year in jail, up to $2,000 in fines and a license suspension of 90 to 210 days.

Illinois. Any person convicted of a DUI in Illinois faces up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 and a license suspension for one year. In Illinois, having actual physical control of a vehicle and being intoxicated will bring DUI charges. You don't have to be driving the car.

Indiana. In Indiana, a first OWI offense carries these penalties: up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine and a license suspension up to 60 days.

Iowa. With a first OWI in Iowa, you will face jail time of 48 hours to one year, fines of $625 to $1,250 and a license revocation of 180 days. In Iowa, a person can be convicted of an OWI without actually driving the vehicle. Just having the engine running is enough to bring OWI charges if the person behind the wheel is intoxicated.

Kansas. A first DUI in Kansas carries the following penalties: 48 hours in jail or 100 hours of community service, a court-ordered alcohol safety and substance treatment program, fines between $500 and $1,000 and a 30-day license suspension. In Kansas, a motorist can get a DUI without actually driving. The Kansas statute defines DUI as operating or attempting to operate a vehicle. So just attempting to operate a vehicle is enough for a DUI arrest if the person is intoxicated.

Kentucky. In Kentucky, a first DUI conviction would mean 90 days of an alcohol or substance abuse program and a six-month license suspension. In Kentucky, you can be arrested for a DUI even if you are not driving. Being intoxicated and being in physical control of a motor vehicle is enough for a DUI.

Louisiana. In Louisiana, a first DWI offense brings the following penalties: a fine of up to $300 to $1,000, jail time of 10 days to six months, probation up to two years, 48 hours of community service, participation in a court-approved substance abuse program and a court-approved driver improvement program

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Maine. With a first OUI offense in Maine you would face a license suspension of 150 days, a fine of $500 and jail time of 48 hours.

Maryland. In Maryland, a first DUI offense means you’ll face up to $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Twelve points will be assessed on your driving record and your license may be revoked for up to six months. In Maryland, a person does not need to be driving a car in order to be arrested for a DUI. A person sitting in a parked car while drunk could be charged with DUI.

Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, a first-time OUI offense carries the following penalties: jail time up to 2 ½ years, a fine between $500 to $5,000 and a license suspension for one year. In Massachusetts, a person can be charged with OUI even if they are not actually driving the vehicle. If the car is parked, stopped or idling, the person behind the wheel can be charged with a OUI if he or she is intoxicated.

Michigan. With a First OWI offense in Michigan, you will face a $100 to $500 fine, up to 93 days in jail, up to 360 hours of community service and a driver’s license suspension for 30 days followed by license restrictions for 150 days.

Minnesota. A first DWI in Minnesota brings penalties of possible jail time and loss of your driver’s license for 30 days and up to a year. In Minnesota, you can get a DWI without actually driving the vehicle. Being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is enough to be arrested for a DWI.

Mississippi. In Mississippi a first DUI offender would face a fine of $250 to $1,000 and jail time of 48 hours. An alcoholic safety education program is required and there is a driver’s license suspension period of 30 to 90 days.

Missouri. In Missouri, a first DWI offense has the following penalties up to six months jail time, up to $1,000 in fines and 30 days license suspension followed by 60 days restricted license. In Missouri, you can get a DWI without driving the car. You simply need to be in a position to restrain or regulate a vehicle’s movements. A car does not need to be moving for you to be arrested for DWI.

Montana. For a first DUI conviction in Montana, you’ll face a fine of $300 to $1,000, jail time of 24 hours to six months and a six-month suspension of your driver’s license. In Montana, you don’t have to be driving to receive a DUI. To be charged with a DUI, you only need to be in physical control of a motor vehicle and be intoxicated beyond the legal limit.

Nebraska. For a DUI in Nebraska, a first-time offender would receive a minimum of seven days in jail and a $400 fine or a maximum of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The first-time offender also will lose their driver’s license for up to six months.

Nevada. With a first DUI conviction in Nebraska, you would face two days to six months in jail, a six-months suspension of your driver’s license and a $35 civil penalty. In Nevada, you can get a DUI without driving a car. Under Nevada law, a person is prohibited from being in actual physical control of a car while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

New Hampshire. A first DWI offense in New Hampshire would bring the following penalties: a fine of $500 to $1,200 and a 9-month to 24-month license revocation.

New Jersey. Penalties for a first DWI conviction in New Jersey are a fine between $300 to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and 12 to 48 hours at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center program. In addition, the driver’s license would be revoked for three months to 12 months. In New Jersey, there doesn’t need to be any actual movement of the vehicle just intent to drive to be charged with a DWI.

New Mexico. With a first-time DWI conviction in New Mexico, you’ll face up to 90 days in jail, up to $500 fine and court costs of about $200.

New York. For a first-time conviction of DWI in New York, an offender would face a fine of $500 to $1,000, jail time up to a year and a license revocation for at least six months. In New York, you don’t need to be driving the car to be arrested for a DWI. Simply getting into the car when over the legal blood alcohol limit may be enough for a DWI arrest.

North Carolina. The penalty for a first-time DWI offense in North Carolina is a fine up to $1,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours and a maximum jail sentence of six months. In North Carolina, you don’t need to be driving to be charged with a DWI. Being intoxicated and having the car’s engine running is enough.

North Dakota. A first-time DUI in North Dakota brings the following penalties: a $500 to $750 fine, two days jail time and a license suspension of up to 180 days. There also will be an addiction evaluation. In North Dakota, a car doesn’t need to be running for a DUI conviction. Being intoxicated in a parked car may bring you DUI charges.

Ohio. In Ohio, the penalties for an OVI are three days to six months in jail, fines ranging from $375 to $1,075 and a license suspension of one to seven years. In Ohio, even if you were not driving the car you could still be convicted of an OVI. For example, if you are intoxicated and sitting in the car with the heater or air conditioner going you could be convicted of OVI.

In Oklahoma In Oklahoma with a DUI conviction, you could face a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time between 10 days and one year. In Oklahoma, a motorist can get a DUI without actually driving. Just being in actual physical control of a vehicle and being under the influence could get you DUI charged in Oklahoma.

Oregon. In Oregon, the penalties for a DUI are a minimum fine of $1,000, up to one year in jail and a driver’s license suspension of 90 days. Even if your car isn’t in motion, you can get a DUI in Oregon. Being intoxicated and in a parked car could mean a DUI if a police officer sees you.

Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania with a DUI conviction, you could face a $300 to $5,000 fine, 48 hours to six months in jail, a 12-month license suspension and alcohol highway safety school. Under Pennsylvania law, police can charge you with a DUI if you are in actual physical control of the vehicle, you don’t need to be driving. For example, you could be sitting in the car with the car not moving and be charged with a DUI.

Rhode Island. With a DUI in Rhode Island, you will face up to one year in jail, fines up to $800, a license suspension of 30 to 180 days and 10 to 60 hours of community service.

South Carolina. If you are convicted of a DUI in South Carolina, the penalties are a fine of up to $400, 48 hours to 30 days of jail time and the suspension of your driver’s license for six months.

South Dakota. In South Dakota, the penalties for a DWI are up to one year in jail, up to a $2,000 fine and a license revocation period of up to one year.

Tennessee. Penalties for a DUI in Tennessee include a $350 to $1,500 fine, jail time, ranging from 48 hours to more than 11 months, and a license revocation for one year. You can get a DUI in Tennessee without driving the car. Being intoxicated and being in physical control of the car is enough for a DUI charge.

Texas. In Texas, the penalties for a DUI are fines up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail and loss of license for up to a year. In Texas, it is possible to receive a DWI when you are not actually driving the car. Being intoxicated and sitting in the driver’s seat of a car with the keys in the ignition could lead to a DWI charge.

Utah. If you are charged with a DUI in Utah, you face two days to 180 days in jail, 48 hours of community service, fines up to $1,310 and a license suspension for 120 days. You can get a DUI in Utah without driving a car. Being in actual physical control of a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is enough for a DUI charge.

Vermont. In Vermont, a first-time DUI offender would face up to two years in jail and fines up to $750 and a license suspension for 90 days. In Vermont, you can be charged with a DUI without driving the car. Being intoxicated and having actual physical control of the car is enough for a DUI. There does not need to be movement of the car or even a conscious driver.

Virginia. For a DUI in Virginia, you will face $250 to $2,500 in fines and a license suspension of up to one year. If your BAC level is .15% or higher, your sentence may include five days in jail. In Virginia, it is possible to be arrested for a DUI and not have been driving the vehicle at the time of the arrest. As long as there is a possibility of being able to operate the vehicle, a police officer can place you under arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Washington. For a DUI in Washington, you could receive up to 364 days in jail and up to $5,000 fine, a license suspension of 90 days and five years of probation. In Washington, you don’t need to be actually driving a vehicle to be charged with a DUI. Being under the influence and being in physical control of the vehicle also brings charges of DUI.

West Virginia. For DUI charges in West Virginia, you will face up to six months of jail time, a fine of $100 to $500 and a license suspension of 90 days.

Wisconsin. For a first OWI charge in Wisconsin, you will receive the following penalties: a fine ranging from $150 to $300 and a six- to nine-month license revocation.

Wyoming. In Wyoming, a first-time DUI offender will face up to six months in jail, up to $750 in fines and a license suspension of 90 days.

It is not just alcohol that can affect a driver’s ability behind the wheel. Prescription or non-prescription medications can impair your driving ability. This is called “drug driving.” This drug driving leads to physical impairment and arrests. Marijuana use, even in legal states, can also end up in a a DUI or OWI charge. For more, see the section on marijuana and OWI vs DUI below.

What Happens If I’m Charged with an OWI or DUI?

In most cases, drunk drivers are pulled over, but if you’re drinking behind the wheel or are drunk even when the car is not moving, you may be stopped by a police officer. You may have to take a field sobriety test to determine an OWI or DUI. Or you may be asked to take a breathalyzer test. If you refuse either of these sobriety tests, you may be arrested and placed in jail. Another test may be required of you to determine whether or not you were drunk driving. All states have zero-tolerance laws that punish people under 21 for driving with any trace of alcohol in their systems. You may face jail time even if it’s your first OWI or DUI. Your driver’s license may be suspended if you are convicted of an OWI or DUI.

If you’re charged with an OWI or DUI, most states will require a hardship license or an ignition interlock restricted license, which means that you have to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your car. An IID is a small handheld car breathalyzer that measures the amount of alcohol on the user’s breath. If the user’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is higher than the device’s programmed BAC limit, the device prevents the car’s engine from starting. Vendors who sell IIDs include Intoxalock, Alcolock, Alcohol Detection Systems, Inc., Auto Sense International Inc. and Guardian Interlock Systems.

OWI vs. DUI: Driver’s License Recovery

Here are steps for getting a driver’s license reinstated after a OWI or DUI. Step one is to attend your DUI hearing and present your case. Step two is pay fees such as court fees, reinstatement fees and bail fees.

The third step is finishing your license revocation period. The fourth step is completing all court requirements, including DUI Traffic school and a treatment program. For step five, with a DUI or OWI on your record, you’ll need to inform your insurance provider of your DUI or OWI and get a SR-22 proving you have this new insurance. Once you complete these five steps, you are free to go to the DMV and apply for reinstatement of your driver’s license. Penalties are more severe for a second offense. For a second DUI or OWI offense, you may spend some time in jail. It is also likely that you will be placed on probation and be required to perform community service. It also may take much longer to get your license back. For example, in Florida for a second offense DUI your license will be revoked for 180 days to a year. As with a first offense, you also will need to complete DUI Traffic school and a treatment program if the judge ordered one before your license can be reinstated.

The treatment programs may offer alcohol and substance abuse treatment as well as therapeutic interventions that target the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. The treatment could be an inpatient rehabilitation, an outpatient rehabilitation and individual therapy.

If your driver’s license has been suspended, the DMV may require you to obtain a SR-22 document, which is also known as a certificate of financial responsibility. A SR-22 verifies the purchase of the vehicle insurance coverage required by the state for reinstatement of your driving privileges. Terms and requirements for SR-22s vary by state. But in general, you must retain both the SR-22 and your insurance policy for about three years. SmartFinancial works with insurers who write SR-22 certificates. Use the SmartFinancial search tool to find insurers with competitive rates near you.

Can I Get an OWI or DUI For Smoking Marijuana in a Legal State?

It’s illegal to smoke or ingest cannabis and drive in states that have legalized marijuana. It is also illegal to smoke marijuana if you are in a parked vehicle. Doing so could get you arrested. So even in a state that has legalized marijuana, you’ll want to keep marijuana and any marijuana paraphernalia out of your car. And you’ll want to avoid driving after smoking or ingesting marijuana. Using marijuana can impair your judgment, motor coordination, ability to concentrate and slow your reaction time. Marijuana can impair your driving skills and impairing those skills even slightly could increase your chances of causing an accident. So stay safe and stay off the road when you use marijuana.

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