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OWI Vs DUI: The Degrees of Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is a serious criminal offense in the United States, but it can be called different things. One can be charged with Operating While Impaired (OWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI). So what is the difference between OWI vs. DUI?

What’s the Difference Between an OWI and a DUI?

OWI and DUI both refer to drunk driving: a driver charged with a DUI is accused of driving under the influence. A driver charged with an OWI is accused of operating while impaired or intoxicated. States may use one or the other but not both when it comes to drunk driving charges. For example, an OWI charge in Iowa has broader definitions than driving under the influence: it is illegal to sit in a running car when intoxicated, even if you are not driving. You do not have to move the vehicle to be charged with drunk driving. Many states use OWI and DUI interchangeably, but for the most part, an OWI is a much broader term while a DUI refers to driving a motor vehicle while impaired.

You can be charged with an OWI just being in your car while impaired; you don’t have to be driving.

The penalties for OWI vs. DUI are generally the same. Specific consequences may be based on varying factors such as how high your BAC was at the time of arrest and if you have any prior convictions. Some penalties that come with an OWI or DUI include:

  • Temporary suspension of your driver’s license (or permanent revocation)
  • Ignition Interlock Device installed in your car to test your BAC throughout the day
  • Restrictions on leaving the state
  • Probation
  • DUI screening and treatment for alcohol addiction
  • Jail time

The consequences of an OWI or DUI can change your life, even if it’s your first offense. Additionally, they get even more severe with repeated offenses.

What Is an OWI?

An OWI means operating while intoxicated and is a term used in Iowa, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Operating a motor vehicle while drunk is a broader term than driving a motor vehicle while drunk. You can be charged with an OWI just being in your car while impaired; you don’t have to be driving. Both OWI and DUI charges usually refer to a driver who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the 0.08% legal limit or who has been charged with unlawful driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Is an OWI a Felony?

An OWI can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on your BAC levels, prior convictions and if there are any injuries or deaths involved.

How Long Do OWIs Stay On Your Record?

An OWI can stay on your record and impact your car insurance rates from three to 10 years, depending on where you live. For example, in Iowa, an OWI will stay on your driving record for 12 years.

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What Is a DUI?

A DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drugs don’t even have to be illegal, they can be over-the-counter or prescription drugs that have impaired the driver. All states have slightly different definitions for “under the influence”. For example, in Colorado, a driver may be charged with a DUI if they appeared even slightly impaired while driving. In California, a driver is impaired if they cannot exercise caution compared with a sober driver. It is very important that drivers understand their state’s drunk driving laws.

Is a DUI a Felony?

Drivers can be convicted of a DUI as a misdemeanor or a felony. A first offense is almost always a misdemeanor. But if the driver seriously injured or killed someone else while driving, they may be looking at felony charges.

How Long Do DUIs Stay On Your Record?

A DUI can stay on your driving record for five to 10 years in most states, and your insurance record for three to five years.

A DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

What Can Happen if You’re Charged With Drunk Driving?

Whether you’re charged with a DUI or an OWI, you could be facing very severe consequences. The process is relatively consistent across state lines. The following is what can happen when you’re charged with drunk driving:

  • Field Sobriety Test: A law enforcement officer may ask you to walk a straight line or take a breathalyzer test.
  • Arrest: If you fail a sobriety test or if you refuse the breathalyzer, you may be arrested.
  • Court date: A court date may be set if charges are filed.
  • Jail and prison: The length of time you could spend in jail or prison depends on if you have any prior convictions and on certain aggravating factors.
  • First-offense convictions: In most states, a first offense is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by no more than six months in jail, depending on your state.
  • Repeated offenses: With second and subsequent offenses, jail time will typically be greater than a first offense.
  • Aggravating circumstances and felony DUI: Certain offenses can impact jail time with a DUI conviction. For example, if your BAC was particularly high, or if someone was killed or injured in the accident.
  • Fines: Almost all DUI convictions will result in fines, which can vary from state to state. A first DUI conviction can result in fines of $500 to $2,000. Fines will go up into the thousands with subsequent convictions.
  • Suspension of driver’s license and Ignition Interlocks: Most drivers will have their license suspended for a period of time. Most drivers can get a hardship license which allows them to drive to and from work or school.
  • Alternate penalties: In many states, offenders may face prevention programs, substance abuse education, community service and treatment for substance abuse.
  • Higher insurance premiums: In almost all states, convicted drivers face much higher insurance rates for the next three to five years.

OWI vs DUI: State by State Comparison

Penalties for getting a DUI or OWI varies from state to state. Some states may have different legal limits for intoxication, for example. In most states, penalties will be higher if your BAC is at least 0.15 percent.

State

Type of Charge

Potential Fines/Penalties

Alabama

DUI

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.

Alaska

OUI

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.

Arkansas

DUI, DWI

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.

Arizona

DUI

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.

California

DUI

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

DUI

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.

Connecticut

OUI

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.

District of Columbia

DUI, DWI

In D.C., drivers may pay up to $1,000 in fines, spend 180 days in jail, and have their license suspended for up to six months. 

Delaware

DUI

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. You only need to be in actual physical control of the car and be intoxicated.

Florida

DUI

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

DUI

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

DUI, DWI

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 $250 to $1,000 in fines.

Idaho

DUI

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

DUI

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

OWI

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

Iowa

DUI, DWI, OWI

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.

Kansas

DUI

A first DUI charge in Kansas carries the following penalties: 48 hours in jail or 100 hours of community service, 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.

Kentucky

DUI, DWI

In Kentucky, a first DUI conviction would mean 90 days of an alcohol or substance abuse program and a six-month license suspension. You can be arrested for a DUI even if you are not driving.

Louisiana

DUI, DWI

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

Maine

OUI

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

DUI, DWI

In Maryland, a first DUI offense means you'll face up to $1,000 in fines 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.

Massachusetts

OUI

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.

Michigan

OWI, OWVI

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

DUI

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.

Mississippi

DUI, DWI

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

DUI, DWI

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.

Montana

DUI

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.

Nebraska

DUI, DWI

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.

New Jersey

DUI, DWI

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

DUI, DWI

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

DUI

For a first-time conviction of DWI in New York, an offender would face a fine of $500 to $1,000, jail time for 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.

North Carolina

DUI, DWI 

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.

North Dakota

DUI, DWI

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.

Ohio

OVI

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.

Oklahoma

DUI, DWI

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.

Oregon

DUI, DWI

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.

Pennsylvania

DUI

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.

Rhode Island

DUI

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

DUI, DUAC

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

DUI, DWI

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

DUI

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.

Texas

DUI, DWI

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.

Utah

DUI, DWI

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.

Vermont

DUI, DWI

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.

Virginia

DUI, DWI

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.

Washington

DUI

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.

West Virginia

DUI

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

OWI

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

DUI, DWI

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.

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FAQs

What’s the difference between an OWI and a DWI?

While OWI and DUI both refer to driving a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol, OWI is a broader crime since it refers to operating a motor vehicle. You can get an OWI by simply being inside your car while impaired, even if you are not driving.

Is there a difference between being impaired vs. drunk?

Each state varies in difference between impaired vs. drunk, but it generally involves the amount of alcohol, age of driver and other substances involved. Typically, being impaired is a slightly lighter charge for those below a BAC of .08 or under the age of 21, while being intoxicated or drunk is levied towards those over the age of 21 or with a BAC of .08.

Can you lose your license for an OWI?

Yes, your license can be suspended or revoked, depending on if it’s your first offense and other factors.

Key Takeaways

  • DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, while OWI stands for Operating While Under the Influence.
  • The ramifications of an OWI or DUI can vary from state to state.
  • The penalties for being charged with drunk driving can be severe, ranging from jail time, probation, mandated Ignition Interlock Device usage, fines and more.

Dealing With Your Car Insurance After an OWI or DUI

Depending on your driving record and insurer, your insurance premium may have increased or your policy may not have been renewed because of the risk you pose due to a DUI or OWI. You may also be ineligible for good driving discounts as long as you have the DUI on your record. By shopping around and switching insurers, you may be able to keep your car premiums from getting too costly. SmartFinancial can help you find the right insurance company for you. Just enter your zip code below to receive free auto insurance quotes in your area.

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