A driver drinking while driving

If you’ve ever been pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, you may have wondered what the difference is between DUI and DWI.

Both acronyms refer to drunk driving, but they have different legal definitions. This post explores the critical differences between DUI and DWI laws in the United States. We’ll also discuss how each charge can impact your life if convicted.

Meaning of DUI and DWI

A DUI and DWI don’t mean the same thing; they have slightly different meanings. A DUI refers to driving under the influence of substances like drugs or alcohol. The drugs needn’t be illicit; they could be prescription and over-the-counter medications. If a person takes them and becomes impaired, it could lead to a DUI charge.

On the other hand, a DWI means driving while impaired or intoxicated. The exact definition depends on your location.

Whether you get charged with a DUI or DWI offense, the charge only arises when a law enforcement officer believes and can prove that you were too impaired to drive. The intake of alcohol, drugs, or even sleeplessness, among other factors, could result in this impairment.

The difference between these two terminologies largely depends on your blood alcohol content (BAC) and the state you face the charge. States have different BAC legal limits. The federal BAC legal limit is 0.08%, but depending on how old you are, you can face a DUI or DWI violation if you have a BAC level as low as 0.01% in some states.

BAC limits are often determined through a breathalyzer, urine, or blood test. However, in some states, a DUI or DWI may be issued without an officer testing for your BAC. You can be charged based on erratic driving behavior, a suspicion of being influenced by alcohol, or even a failed field sobriety test.

Furthermore, you can still be said to commit a DWI or DUI offense even if you’re in the driver’s seat, but your car isn’t moving. You can get a DUI or DWI charge or any similar indictment if you’re intoxicated and steering a motorized scooter, moped, watercraft, bicycle, or lawnmower.

Some states regard drunk driving as minor wrongdoing. However, when offenders commit these offenses repeatedly, they risk facing felony charges.

A policeman pulling a car over for drunk driving

DUI or DWI: Which Is Worse?

Although both DUI and DWI violations are severe and used interchangeably, a DWI charge is direr in a state that recognizes them as separate laws. Some US states can even reduce your drunk driving DWI charge to a DUI offense if it’s your first drug or alcohol-related crime and you had a BAC below 0.08%.

However, it’d be best to know that it’s challenging to overturn either charge if an officer believed or had any reason to pull you over or if a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test shows you’re guilty.

Definition of a DWI Within Texas Borders

In Texas, driving while intoxicated is defined legally by the Texas penal code, section 49.04, which states that a person commits an offense if the person operates a motor vehicle in a public space while intoxicated.

The Texas penal code also went a step further by explaining that intoxication means being in a condition where one doesn’t have the expected physical and mental faculties due to alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances use. Legal consequences can also follow if you have a BAC of 0.08 or more.

Zero-Tolerance Policies for Drunk Driving

Some states in the US have zero-tolerance policies for drunk driving, and these states don’t differentiate between DUI and DWI charges. These laws and policies ensure mandatory enforcement upon violation regardless of extenuating circumstances, severity, and intent.

The laws or policies in the zero-tolerance mandate that a BAC above the legal limit is a crime. Although other states may use the DUI or DWI terms to signify if drugs or alcohol caused a driver’s impairment, a DUI covers both in zero-tolerance states.

A driver trying not to appear drunk because there's a DUI checkpoint ahead

Are DUI Checkpoints or Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?

If a law enforcement officer stops you at a checkpoint and then charges you with a DUI or DWI afterward, you’ll probably wonder whether DUI checkpoints are legal. Many people argue that DUI or sobriety checkpoints are an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The truth is DUI checkpoints are legal. They’re legal because the court has clearly stated that driving on a public road isn’t an absolute right, so law enforcement officers can set up checkpoints if they meet the strict conditions. S

Despite the legality of DUI checkpoints, you still have rights. So, you can have your charges dropped if law enforcement officers violate your rights. They can’t single out any driver or use discretion to determine which driver to stop. They must stop every vehicle or use a predetermined pattern, such as stopping every fifth vehicle.

Even if they stop your vehicle, they can only ask for basic information. Therefore, before the police can search the vehicle or conduct a field sobriety test, they must have probable cause.

Although we don’t encourage drunk driving, you can avoid checkpoints if you do not wish to have any run-ins with the law. No law makes it mandatory for drivers to go through checkpoints.

Therefore, when drivers pass through a checkpoint, they’re considered to have given their consent to being stopped. A driver avoiding a checkpoint isn’t a probable cause for the police to stop the driver; they’d need additional traffic violations like failing to signal and an illegal u-turn to make the stop.

When indicted with a DUI or a DWI at a checkpoint, your right to a defense attorney applies. You can also ask the officers if the search they conducted in your car to find an open bottle of alcohol was legal or whether they properly conducted the sobriety test.

Contact a DUI lawyer to learn more about your rights and the possible defenses.

Outcomes of a DWI or DUI Arrest 

Whether a DUI or DWI means the same thing in your state or not, an arrest for any of these charges could mean a couple of severe consequences.

These consequences may be grave for first-time offenders in some states, even for first-time offenders. For instance, an Arizona DUI and DWI charge for first-time offenders includes punishments like some days of mandatory jail term or community service, fines of at least $1,480, a 90-day driver’s license suspension, etcetera.

The consequences of a DUI or DWI charge in most states include:

  • Fines and fees
  • Suspension or loss of driver’s license
  • Defense driving classes
  • Reduced driving privileges
  • Drug or alcohol treatment
  • Increased insurance cost
  • Ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle
  • Community service
  • Jail time

A driver charged with a DUI

What to Do After a DUI or DWI Charge

DUI or DWI offenses aren’t the charges to take lightly; they can significantly impact your life. You can lose your job, face a license suspension, do community service or even serve jail time. After a DUI or DWI charge, here are things to do.

  • Get a ride home since you can’t drive as your license will most likely be suspended
  • Prioritize your court case
  • Determine whether you need a DUI lawyer for a favorable legal outcome
  • Make arrangements for your transportation while you wait for your court case
  • Prepare for your court case
  • Start looking into SR-22 insurance

Ignition Interlock Devices: Reasons They Are Good for DUIs and DWIs

Although the legal consequences for a DUI or DWI offense differ in various states, some states have adopted the installation of a Breathalyzer, better known as an ignition interlock device (IID), inside the offender’s car.

The function of this device is to measure the driver’s alcohol level before starting the engine. So, if the IID’s reading is within the legal limit, it allows the DUI or DWI offender to continue driving, thereby keeping the streets safe.

Here are some reasons why they’re a win-win for DUIs and DWIs.

  • The Cost of Installing an IID Offsets That of Other Fines Associated With a DUI or DWI Charge

In some states, the installation of IIDs is mandatory for people charged with DUI or DWI. This installation process costs a one-time fee of roughly $100 and a monthly recurring fee of about $50.

Compare these costs to the hefty fines and license suspension you’ll likely face, and you’ll find that IIDs are a soft landing. This device can’t detect illegal drug use yet, but it’s a step to curb DUI and DWI cases.

  • It Takes Drunk Drivers off the Road

IID laws prevent previous offenders from committing the same crime again – DUI or DWI. This alcohol detection device that was once used primarily by law enforcement officers to test and arrest drunk drivers now prevents that from ever happening. They can only drive when they’re sober.

The device is a life-changing permanent defense for anyone with an alcohol-related crime on their record. It prevents drivers from ever getting drunk again and allows them to make amends within the law! The courts will determine how long affected drivers need to keep this installed in your car, though. Be sure not to abuse or neglect its use by removing it without permission after installation.

  • It Reduces the Hardship That Comes With a DUI Charge

A DUI charge mostly means a mandatory driver’s license suspension without an IID. This suspension can bring untold hardship for people who need to drive to execute day-to-day activities like taking their kids to school, working, shopping, or doing community service. In some cases, a driver who can’t cope may have to drive illegally without insurance.

However, when the court orders an IID installation in the offender’s vehicle, it can improve a complicated situation and make drivers eligible for continuous coverage by the insurance company.

Frequently Asked Questions About DUI/DWI

  • What Does Aggravated DWI Mean?

Although the specific laws vary from state to state, an aggravated DWI signifies that additional offenses or circumstances exist in addition to the first DWI charge.

These additional offenses may include having previous DWI convictions, driving with open alcohol containers, causing an accident while driving under the influence, or having a blood alcohol content higher than 0.15%.

  • What Is the Cost of a DUI?

The cost of a DWI can vary greatly depending on the severity and location it was committed. These costs include court fees, bail expenses (if applicable), fines that may be imposed by law, and alcohol treatment or other necessary measures to restore drivers’ license privileges after conviction.

These costs vary from state to state. However, the total expenses are often between $3,000 to $10,000.

  • Does Car Insurance Rate Go Up After a DUI?

You can expect your car insurance rates to increase after a DUI or DWI. In some cases, you may be dropped from your insurance policy entirely—the extent to which your insurance policy increases depends on your insurance carrier. However, the national average increase is about 74%.

  • Is There a Need for SR-22 After a DUI Conviction?

Besides the higher premiums associated with a DUI offense, your insurance carrier, and your state may also require you to obtain SR-22 or FR-44 (as it’s called in Florida and Virginia).

These certificates are for high-risk drivers like DUI offenders and show that the holder has met the state’s current car insurance requirement and will continue to do that for a certain period (about three years).

Regardless of the certificates (SR-22 or FR-44) you’re applying for, you’ll have to pay about $25 to the insurance company. The certificates are requirements for drivers seeking to reinstate their suspended driver’s license after a DUI or DWI charge. Although the period you must retain any of these certificates differs from state to state, it’s mostly three years, at least.

  • How Long Will a DUI or DWI Affect My Insurance Record?

In most states, a DUI or DWI charge will stay on your record and affect your car insurance rate for about three to five years.

Even if all additional charges are dropped off your insurance rate, the DUI or DWI charge can influence your car insurance many years later. For instance, in states like California, you won’t enjoy the 20% good driver discount until about ten years after your DUI or DWI charge.


If you’re pulled over and questioned about your alcohol consumption, be sure to know the difference between DUI and DWI. While both crimes involve drinking and driving, they have different definitions and consequences. If you are ever in this situation, don’t hesitate to contact a competent DUI attorney for help. With their expertise, you can navigate the legal system and get back on the road as quickly as possible.

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