What Does DWI Mean?

David Joy April 21, 2021

What does "DUI" mean? What about DUI vs DWI? Are they the same thing? If a driver is charged with a DWI or DUI and faces criminal charges, the difference between a DUI vs. DWI will be negligible to that driver. In fact, every state basically holds to the same definition of "driving under the influence" (DUI) or "driving while impaired" (DWI), so the DUI vs. DWI distinction is a moot point.

If your blood alcohol content registers a .08% or above on a breathalyzer, you will need the services of an attorney.

Something To Consider Before Driving While Impaired

The difference between a DUI vs DWI may seem confusing, but it's important to recognize that DUI and DWI both include the influence of drugs, not just beer, wine and spirits. No matter the substance, if that substance puts you and other drivers in danger, that substance will be covered by most states' legislation. While the DUI vs. DWI question may baffle a person with a driver's license or a person without a driver's license, the DUI vs. DWI answer is simple: The acronyms describe the same basic crime. It's better to learn that now than have to ask your arresting officer later.

DUI vs DWI: Zero Tolerance for Drinking While Impaired

However, when it comes to the difference between a DUI and a DWI, some states have their own particularities, especially when it comes to fines and penalties.  In many states, drunk driving is treated as a misdemeanor, but repeat offenders might face felony charges. Don't let the influence of alcohol influence you. Good drivers are never driving under the influence of alcohol.

Go to SmartFinancial and click "learn more" to see your particular state's laws, fines and sanctions related to voluntary diminished capability while driving. For example, the site details which states have lower blood-alcohol limits for drivers under 21. Further, SmartFinancial can find the best, lowest-priced auto insurance for drivers who have been arrested for driving with a voluntarily diminished capability. 

Driving Under the Influence: Drinking and Driving in the U.S.: Part One

In the U.S., the first legislation against intoxicated (DWI and DUI) driving was enacted by the state of New Jersey in 1906, two years before the Ford Motor Company introduced the popular Model T. "No intoxicated person shall drive a motor vehicle," the statute provided.

Despite this early sign of America's slowly building but ever-increasing awareness of the hazards associated with operating an automobile with a voluntarily diminished capability, state laws regarding this dangerous activity remained decidedly lax for a long time. 

Beginning in the late 1930s, many states permitted their drivers to have a blood alcohol content of up to .15%, a staggeringly high amount compared with today's DWI and DUI standards. In fact, the legal phrase "driving while intoxicated" did not gain currency until as late as 1950, with "driving under the influence" not making its first appearance until 1969.

Driving Under the Influence: Drinking and Driving in the U.S.: Part Two

Indeed, America's perception of drunk driving did not drastically change until the 1980s, when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began to raise awareness of drunk driving and its careless, fatal, permanent consequences. (Candy Lightner founded MADD in 1980, after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver with three previous drunk-driving arrests.) The organization promoted the use of victim-impact statements in court and, in 1984, successfully lobbied Congress to pass the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. In 1989, the group launched a national advertising campaign against drinking and driving.

Drinking and Driving in the U.S.: Part Three

In 2000, the efforts of MADD and other grassroots organizations to strengthen drunk-driving laws finally culminated in federal legislation that established a .08%  limit on blood alcohol content. By 2004, all 50 states had adopted the .08% limit. (In December 2018, Utah became the first state to lower its limit to just .05%.)

SmartFinancial can help you find the best, lowest-priced auto insurance for drivers who have been arrested for impaired driving or if you need an SR22. Our expert insurance agents can walk you through the maze of competing policies to find one that's right for your budget and insurance needs. Just enter your zip code or call 855-214-2291 for free, real-time auto insurance quotes.

A Glossary: Part One

The following is a glossary of the terms and acronyms used by the courts and law enforcement in relation to cases involving the operation of a vehicle while impaired.

BAC means for "blood alcohol concentration," which is a measure of the amount of alcohol in a driver's blood. There are three basic ways to measure BAC: a breath test, a urine test and a blood test. While law enforcement most commonly uses the breath test, it is only an estimate. The blood test is the most precise way to measure BAC, but the results can take four to six weeks. BrAC means "breath alcohol concentration," which estimates a person's BAC based on the amount of alcohol vapors in their breath.  Perfecting research that began as far back as 1874,  the Breathaylzer—a portmanteau of "breath" and "analyzer"—was introduced in 1954, superseding the less accurate Drunk-o-Meter of the Prohibition era.  At least one study suggests a Breathalyzer's margin of error can be as high as 15 percent.

DUI stands for "driving under the influence," but that "influence" can be due to either alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. 

DWI stands for "driving while intoxicated," whether that "intoxication" is the result of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. 

A Glossary: Part Two

Ignition interlock is an in-car, breathalyzer-like device that disallows the engine to start if the car's operator is legally drunk. Typically, the car's operator must blow into a mouthpiece.

Implied consent laws are on the books in all 50 states. The concept of "implied consent" is a legal fiction by which the law assumes that you have previously given your consent to have your BAC measured when your vehicle is stopped by law enforcement.

There are other terms and acronyms—DWAI ("driving while ability impaired") and AGG-DWI ("aggravated DWI"),  OUI ("operating under the influence") and OWI ("operating while intoxicated"), for example—but this article will focus on the realities behind the BAC, DUI and DWI acronyms.

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Are DUI and DWI the Same?

If you are charged with a DWI or DUI, it means a law enforcement officer has determined, either through a field test ("Touch your nose with your left forefinger!") or a breathalyzer that your alcohol blood content exceeds the legal limit. If you exceed the .08% standard, you will be charged with a DUI, DWI, DWAI, OUI or OWI, depending on your state. 

Many lawyers offer a free consultation; if you are the victim of the consequences of an irresponsible driver, many lawyers will take on your case for free.

Regardless of the nomenclature, a charge of impaired driving is not a conviction. Speak with an attorney who is experienced in this area of legislation to get the best legal representation. Remember, repeat DWIs and DUIs bring stricter punishments.

(Note, it is important to keep in mind that alcohol is not the only reason for driving impaired. Drugs, whether illegal or prescription, sleeplessness and other factors are also hazards to avoid while driving.)

What's the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

The only real difference between DUI and DWI is the difference in wording. The DUI vs. DWI difference is really no difference at all. The best course of action is to avoid driving while impaired.

Sanctions: Part One

In every state, a DUI-DWI conviction includes ticketing, fines and points. But penalties may include a license suspension, loss of driving privileges, confiscation of your automobile, community service and jail time.

Sanctions: Part Two

In many states, DUI and DWI sanctions can increase if your BAC is at least 0.15%. Penalties can also increase if you have multiple DUIs and DWIs.

Sanctions: Part Three

In many jurisdictions,  you can be charged with a DUI or DWI while sitting in a car that's parked and not moving.

Sanctions: Part Four

In every state, you can receive a DUI or DWI charge if you are steering a watercraft, moped, motorized scooter, bicycle or lawnmower.

Sanctions: Part Five

In New York, under the state's zero-tolerance law, a driver under the age of 21 can face legal problems  if they're suspected of driving with a BAC of 0.02% to 0.07%. But New York is just one example.

Sanctions: Part Six

In Wisconsin, a first-offense OWI—Wisconsin prefers "OUI" to "DUI" or  "DWI"—could lead to a nine-month license suspension, but Georgia and Tennessee will hand down a one-year suspension for the same crime. Of course, different offenses carry different consequences.

Sanctions: Part Seven

Every state has its own sanctions. Go to SmartFinancial to find out the legal limits in your state. 

DWI-DUI When Parked

Since April 2021, the DUI-DWI laws in every state allow for a person to get a DUI or DWI while sleeping in their car, regardless if the keys are in the ignition or not. This universal statute considers you to be in physical control of a vehicle when the keys are inside the car, even if the keys are in your purse.

You can be charged with a DUI or DWI when you're parked and "sleeping it off"  in the driver's seat or parked but appearing to be intending to drive. This offense is serious and should be taken seriously.

DWI-DUI Sanctions, DWI in Texas: Part One

Texas drunk-driving laws are strict. If you have a driver's license in Texas, you should avoid a DWI in Texas at all cost. A DWI in Texas could lead to financial ruin. A DWI in Texas could lead to jail time! 

A DWI in Texas means driving with a voluntarily diminished capacity, but you could diminish or even destroy the capacity of your own life or the life of someone else, not only driving in Texas but beyond state limits. Now is the time to get serious about driving safely.

For example, if you flat-out refuse to take a field sobriety test in Texas—despite the implied-consent rule—you could face a license suspension for 180 days for a first offense and two years for a second offense. This rule applies to adults and minors in Texas. 

DWI-DUI Sanctions, DWI in Texas: Part Two

According to the Texas penal code, while it is illegal for an individual the age of 21 years old or older to operate an automobile with a .08% BAC level, the legal limit for commercial drivers is .04% and the legal limit for licensed citizens under 21 is .01%. California and Wyoming have the same thresholds, but Wyoming's under-21 rule is .02%.

If you are convicted of a DUI or DWI crime, the Texas penal code will require you to submit an SR-22 filing, which is an official liability insurance document that's required to maintain your auto insurance.

DWI-DUI Sanctions in Texas: Part Three

This state's three-strike law encourages harsher sentencing after an individual has committed three felony DUI-DWI crimes. In fact, there are cases in Texas with mandatory life sentences for three strikes. None of the three felony convictions are required to be violent, so even misdemeanors count.

Remember, the penalties only get worse after multiple DUI and DWI offenses. Before your situation becomes nightmarish, don't drink and drive in the first place.

The High Cost of DUI and DWI

It's important to recognize that a DWI-DUI costs more than just tickets, fines and loss of transportation to your job.  It also means you'll be paying for court costs, attorney fees and higher insurance rates, never mind the possibility of losing your freedom. If the court requires an ignition interlock device, you will be paying out-of-pocket for that device's installation.

It also means a loss of time. Not only will. you suffer sleepless nights, you may have to wake up early in the morning to perform your court-appointed community service before going to work. Some individuals have to perform up to 100 hours of community service for a first-time offense!

A DUI-DWI conviction will not help your financial situation. Call SmartFinancial at 855-214-2291 for a free consultation if you have a DUI-DWI on your driving record. Expert insurance agents are waiting for your call. You can also visit SmartFinancial for free auto insurance quotes online.

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