Last updated: February 2023

Differences Between a DUI and DWI

DUI and DWI. You've heard the two acronyms, but do you know what they mean? DUI stands for "Driving Under the Influence" and DWI generally stands for "Driving While Impaired." Depending on where you live, the terms could have different meanings or refer to the same thing. Follow along as we compare DUI vs DWI and how a conviction of either could impact a driver's future.

Speak the lingo: DUI terms vary by state

DUI is the most widely recognized term related to drunk driving, but many states use other acronyms like:

  • DUIL - driving under the influence of liquor
  • DWI - driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired
  • OMVI - operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated
  • OWI - operating while intoxicated
  • OUI - operating under the influence

States may use different acronyms when talking about alcohol and driving, but all states prohibit the operation of a vehicle on a public road if you have a blood-alcohol content of more than .081—and this is regardless of whether or not the alcohol has any noticeable impact on your driving abilities.

DUI vs DWI differences

  • DUI - Driving Under the Influence: This is the most common charge associated with drunk driving, though it can also apply to drivers under the influence of drugs or medication. In some states, you can be convicted of a DUI when driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 regardless of whether or not you're visibly impaired.
  • DWI - Driving While Intoxicated/Impaired: This one tends to be more state specific. In some states "DWI" essentially means the same thing as "DUI." In others, it means "driving while impaired." Anything from falling asleep at the wheel to driving while physically incapable of safely controlling the vehicle can be grounds for criminal charges.

In either case, if you are cited it means that a law enforcement officer has reason to believe that you were too impaired to safely drive. If you are convicted, the consequences vary by state but usually include driver's license suspension/revocation, fine, mandatory alcohol education and treatment, vehicle confiscation, and sometimes jail time and/or an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle. And, before your driver's license will be reinstated, you will likely be required to provided certified proof of automobile insurance by an SR22, or FR44 or similar certification. That certification proves that you have the right insurance policy in place to meet your state's minimum liability coverage.

See state-by-state DUI penalties on to learn more.

Your best bet: Avoid driving impaired

Feeling sleepy? Buzzed? Or just not up to the challenge of driving? If you have any reason to believe that you may be impaired while driving, don't get behind the wheel. There are too many cheap or free ways to get home! There's public transportation, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, taxi cabs, and even your family and friends. Don't drive impaired! You'll not only avoid potential criminal charges or a car accident but you won't put lives at risk, including your own. 

Best advice: Talk to a local legal professional

If you've been charged with a DUI, DWI, or other alcohol-related driving offense, it's best to contact an attorney in your area that specializes in these types of cases. Know that if you're dealing with the aftermath of a DUI, you're not alone. Direct Auto Insurance can help you with SR22 or FR44 certification to help you get back on the road. Call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) or stop by a Direct Auto location near you to talk with a friendly agent who understands your needs.

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