DWI vs. DUI: What is the Difference?

Article Summary:

Depending on the state in which you are charged, DWI and DUI can mean different things. Though some states use both DUI and DWI, others use DWI to specify the driver was intoxicated and DUI to imply drug use was involved. Regardless of the terminology, DUI and DWI violations can have serious and expensive consequences, both legally and financially.

Nobody wants to get a DUI or DWI. Driving under the influence does happen, however, and navigating the complex and confusing legal system after a DUI offense occurs can be nightmarish. Even understanding the legal difference between the offenses can be mind-boggling.

If you find yourself in need of (or even just interested in) clarity around DUI or DWI or the many other acronyms related to drunk driving or impaired driving, we’ve got you covered.

Why impaired driving is never a good idea

Each state has its own laws regarding how to handle a DUI or DWI offense. Regardless of where you are, DUI and DWI violations are serious charges that can result in all sorts of consequences. These could include increased car insurance rates, mandatory community service, having an IID (or ignition interlock device) installed in your vehicle, driver’s license revocation, restriction of driving privileges, or even jail time.

The best practice is to do everything in your power to ensure that when you get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, you are not driving under the influence of any substances. If you’re interested in navigating the murky waters of impaired driving laws, however, here’s a comprehensive guide to the distinction between a DUI and DWI charge, and what can happen if you get one.

The basics of a DUI and DWI

Though they have similar consequences, the terms DWI and DUI have very different meanings depending on the state you’re in. DUI refers to driving under the influence and DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. Both involve being caught driving while your abilities are impaired, though certain states may use different terminology depending on whether this impairment was caused by drugs, alcohol, or other factors.

In the case of alcohol, most states follow the same ruling. If a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC or blood alcohol concentration) is over 0.08%, they are guilty of a DUI or DWI. In most states, if your BAC is over 0.18%, you can be charged with an aggravated DWI, which has more serious consequences.

But DUI and DWI violations don’t just apply to drunk driving but instead can apply to a variety of conditions that leave your abilities impaired. Of course, being under the influence of drugs (whether they are prescribed or illegal) while driving can earn you a DUI or DWI. But in some states, you can even earn a DUI or DWI charge simply by driving while too tired.

There aren’t any chemical tests to determine if you are under the influence of prescription or illegal drugs (like the breathalyzer test and urine test for BAC). Instead, if the law enforcement officer believes you might be ability impaired, they will perform a field sobriety test to determine if you should be charged with a DUI or DWI.

State-specific rules

What’s more, depending on where you live, your state’s impaired driving laws may distinguish between operating a vehicle and driving one. Though most states use “operating” and “driving” interchangeably, other states use “operating” as a separate impaired driving classification. For example, in Massachusetts simply sitting in the driver’s seat while above the legal limit (or ability impaired in another way) can earn you an OWI or OUI charge.

Certain states also have broadened definitions of what a vehicle is. In New York, for example, you can be charged with a DUI or DWI offense on a bicycle or skateboard.

DUI and DWI-related acronyms

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Driving while ability impaired (DWAI)
  • Operating under the influence (OUI)
  • Operating while impaired (OWI)

Impaired and drunk driving laws

The laws that dictate the consequences of a DUI and DWI charge are complex and vary state by state. States also use varying terminology to describe the crime of operating a motor vehicle while over the legal limit (or otherwise impaired).

New York, for example, uses the term DWI to mean any driver whose blood alcohol content is above the legal limit (0.08% for non-commercial drivers), and DWAI (driving while ability impaired) to mean any driver whose blood alcohol content is between 0.5% and 0.7%. New York is also one of the states with zero-tolerance policies, which means DWI charges can apply if a driver’s age is under 21 and their BAC is over 0.02%.

Here’s a comprehensive list of New York State’s impaired driving laws:

List of legal and financial penalties for drug or alcohol-related driving charges

So, in New York State, DWAI refers to lower-level offenses, while DWI refers to more serious ones.

Penalties for a DWAI or DWI charge in New York all involve fines up to $10,000, license suspension or revocation, and potential time behind bars. Other states, however, use different terminology and have different penalties.

Some states use DWI (like New York), while others use DUI or OUI to mean basically the same thing. Here’s a comprehensive list of how each state penalizes a first-offense DUI:

StateMinimum jailFines and feesMinimum license suspensionIID required?
AlabamaNone$600 to $2,10090 DaysNo
AlaskaMin. 72 hours$1,500Min. 90 daysYes
ArizonaMin. 24 hours$250 base fine90 to 360 daysYes
Arkansas24 hours to 1 year$150 to $1,0006 monthsYes
California4 days to 6 months$1,400 to $2,60030 days to 10 monthsYes, in some counties
ColoradoUp to 1 year (DUI), or up to 180 days (DWAI)Up to $1,000 (DUI), or up to $500 (DWAI)9 months (DUI), none for DWAINo
Connecticut2 days up to 6 months$500 to $1,0001 yearNo
DelawareMax. 6 months$500 to $1,15001 to 2 yearsNo
D.C.Max 90 days$300 to $1,1006 monthsNo
Florida6 to 9 months$500 to $2,000180 days to 1 yearYes
Georgia24 hours to 1 year$300 to $1,000Up to 1 yearNo
HawaiiNone$150 to $1,00090 daysNo
IdahoUp to 6 monthsUp to $1,00090 to 180 daysNo
IllinoisUp to 1 yearUp to $2,500Min. 1 yearYes
Indiana60 days to 1 year$500 to $5,000Up to 2 yearsNo
Iowa48 hours up to 1 year$625 to $1,200180 daysYes, if BAC above .10
Kansas48 hour min.$750 to $1,00030 daysYes
KentuckyNone$600 to $2,10090 daysNo
Louisiana2 days to 6 months$1,00090 daysPossible
Maine30 days$50090 daysNo
MarylandUp to 1 year (DUI); up to 2 months (DWI)Up to $1,000 (DUI); up to $500 (DWI)Min 6 months (DUI & DWI)No
MassachusettsUp to 30 months$500 to $5,0001 yearNo
MichiganUp to 93 daysFrom $100 to $500Up to 6 monthsPossible
MinnesotaUp to 90 days$1,000Up to 90 daysYes
MississippiUp to 48 hours$250 to $1,00090 daysNo
MissouriUp to 6 monthsUp to $50030 daysPossible
Montana2 days to 6 months$300 to $1,0006 monthsPossible
Nebraska7 to 60 daysUp to $500Up to 60 daysNo
Nevada2 days to 6 months$400 to $1,00090 daysPossible
New HampshireNone$500 to $1,2006 monthsNo
New JerseyUp to 30 days$250 to $5003 months to 1 yearPossible
New MexicoUp to 90 daysUp to $500Up to 1 yearYes
New YorkNone$500 to $1,0006 monthsYes
North Carolina24 hours (for level 5 offender) (however, if 3 aggravated factors are present — Level 1A — minimum of 12 months)$200 (for level 5 offender)60 days to 1 yearNo
North DakotaNone$500 to $75091 to 180 daysNo
Ohio3 days to 6 months$250 to $1,0006 months to 3 yearsNo
Oklahoma5 days to 1 yearUp to $1,00030 daysNo
Oregon2 days or 80 hours of community services$1,000 to $6,2501 yearYes
PennsylvaniaNone$300NoYes, if refuses to take a chemical test
Rhode IslandUp to 1 year$100 to $5002 to 18 monthsNo
South Carolina48 hours to 90 days$400 to $1,0006 monthsNo
South DakotaUp to 1 year$1,00030 days to 1 yearNo
Tennessee48 hours up to 11 months$350 to $1,5001 yearYes
Texas3 to 180 daysUp to $2,00090 to 365 daysNo
Utah48 hours min.$700 min.120 daysNo
VermontUp to 2 yearsUp to $75090 daysNo
VirginiaMin. 5 daysMin. $2501 yearYes (if BAC .15 or above)
Washington24 hours to 1 year$865.50 to $5,00090 days to 1 yearYes
West VirginiaUp to 6 months$100 to $1,00015 to 45 daysPossible
WisconsinNone$150 to $3006 to 9 monthsNo
WyomingUp to 6 monthsUp to $75090 daysYes – if BAC .15 or above
*All data from DUI Driving Laws.

How expensive is a DUI charge?

It’s no surprise to anyone that driving under the influence results in serious legal consequences. What many fail to consider, however, is all of the other ways a DUI can cost you money.

Upfront costs

On average, you can expect a DWI to cost you between $10,000 and $30,000, and that’s if it’s your first offense (meaning you have no prior convictions related to DUI or DWI offenses). Here are the upfront costs you can expect to pay if you’re charged with your first DUI:

  • Court-ordered fines. Fines for DUI and DWI violations vary by state, but you can expect these to cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.
  • Attorney’s fees. You are not required to have an attorney to fight your DUI. However, it’s likely worth it, especially if you have a more serious offense that involves jail time. Attorneys are expensive, and it may cost up to $10,000 in legal fees to fight your DUI charges.
  • Traffic school or substance abuse courses. Depending on the state, you may be required to take courses in order to regain your driver’s license. These courses can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on where you live and how serious your violation is.
  • Other fees. Depending on your situation, you may also have to pay fees at the DMV, pay to have an IID installed in your vehicle, pay to tow and store your vehicle (if you’re going to jail), and/or pay bail. All of these costs can be in the low hundreds to low thousands of dollars, depending on your specific situation.

Pro Tip

While attorneys are expensive, they can often save you both money and legal consequences in the long run. Always consult an attorney before making the choice to represent yourself in DUI court. If you don’t have the funds to hire an attorney, consider taking out a personal loan to protect yourself from more serious legal consequences.

Prolonged costs

After you’ve dealt with the legal consequences of your DWI and you’re hoping to get back to your life, you’re going to need to acquire high-risk auto insurance. Auto insurance rates reflect the perceived risk of the driver, and if your insurance company perceives you as the kind of person who is likely to get behind the wheel while above the legal limit, you’re going to pay for it.

Depending on your insurance company, a high-risk policy could cost you anywhere from 50% to 200% more than your standard car insurance policy. Some insurance companies don’t offer high-risk policies, and you may simply lose your coverage. Here are the states where a DWI will have the greatest impact on your insurance rates:

StateAvg. annual policy costWith DUIDifference
New Hampshire$2,016$3,687$1,671
New Jersey$2,809$4,488$1,679
New Mexico$2,039$3,173$1,134
New York$2,777$3,932$1,155
North Carolina$1,506$6,020$4,514
North Dakota$2,286$3,449$1,164
Rhode Island$3,589$7,550$3,961
South Carolina$2,071$3,260$1,190
South Dakota$2,429$3,737$1,308
West Virginia$2,106$3,795$1,688

What’s worse, these hiked insurance premiums are going to stick around for a while. Depending on the state you live in, DUI and DWI violations can stay on your record (and impact the cost of your insurance) anywhere from 3 to 10 years.


If your impaired or drunk driving charge is serious enough, you may be required to obtain an SR-22 form to avoid license suspension. This form, obtained from your DMV, is additional proof that you have an active auto insurance policy. If your SR-22 (or your insurance policy) lapses, your driving privileges will be revoked.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to find insurance coverage, you may be able to obtain coverage through a state-sponsored policy.

Key Takeaways

  • The difference between a DUI and DWI charge depends on the state in which you live. Different states use varied terminologies to describe levels of or ways to be impaired (e.g. DUI, OUI, DWAI, etc.). In all states, however, the more impaired you are, the harsher the penalty will be.
  • Any DWI or DUI offense goes on your driving record and your insurance record, which will make driving more difficult (and expensive) for up to 10 years.
  • Hiring an attorney can actually reduce costs and hassle in the long run.
View Article Sources
  1. DUI Laws by State — Nolo Driving Laws
  2. Penalties for alcohol or drug-related violations — New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
  3. How To Find Auto Insurance That Covers Any Driver — SuperMoney
  4. What Is SR-22 Insurance? The Definitive Guide To an SR 22 Certificate of Insurance — SuperMoney
  5. Cost of a DUI: The Breakdown and 3 Ways to Pay — SuperMoney
  6. How to Choose the Right Car Insurance Company — SuperMoney
  7. Can I Insure a Car Not in My Name? — SuperMoney
  8. Best Auto Insurance for High Risk Drivers | June 2022 — SuperMoney