You’ve heard the terms DWI and DUI. Do you know the difference between the two acronyms and the effect being charged with one or the other can have on your life?

If you or someone you know is charged with drunk driving, you should know what each means. Are DUI and DWI the same thing?

The answer to that question depends on where you live. Some states have clear distinctions, while in others it means the same thing.

You’ll want to know how your state defines each charge. We’ll hash out DWI vs DUI in this handy guide.


Accidents caused by a drunk driver kill more than 10,000 people every year. Whether it’s DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated or Driving While Impaired), it means that a person was driving in a reckless or dangerous manner while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. If you’re involved in a drunk driving accident, you’ll want to know how to distinguish one charge from the other.

What is DWI?

DWI is the acronym for Driving While Impaired or sometimes, Driving While Intoxicated. When defined as Driving While Intoxicated in some states, it means the same as Driving Under the Influence.

In states where there is a difference between the two, DWI is the more serious infraction. If a person is arrested for DWI, the charge is based on their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) at the time.

If the field sobriety test shows a blood alcohol level over the legal limit, it can be difficult to get the charge of DWI reduced to a DUI.

What is DUI?

The meaning of DUI is a little bit different. It means Driving Under the Influence. In this case, the driver is not necessarily over the legal limit but may be discovered to be driving after consuming alcohol or under the influence of drugs.

If the officer believes that you are under the influence of drugs, a Drug Recognition Expert may be called to conduct the appropriate tests. This tests will show if there is cause for an arrest.

Driving under the influence of prescription and non-prescription drugs also falls in this category in addition to illegal substances.

This is still a very serious offense even in states where it is the lesser of the two charges.

Effects of DUI or DWI Charges

Being charged with either of these offenses is no small matter. There are some very costly consequences and not just in terms of money.

One of the most life-altering effects is jail time and emotional instability especially if you kill or injure someone while driving drunk.

You may lose your driver’s license. Can you live the way you’re used to living without a driver’s license?

Your car insurance rates are sure to skyrocket or you may lose coverage altogether. Nobody wants to insure a risky driver.

Some sort of community service may be part of your sentence.

DWI vs. DUI? No matter the difference, you want to keep both off of your driving record.

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