DUI vs. DWI: Each of the Consequences For Your Future

We all know the dangers of getting behind the wheel when under the influence of alcohol. But aside from the potential danger and getting a driving record, you pose to yourself and others, what are the consequences of doing so, especially if you get caught? In this article, we’ll be discussing DUI, DWI, their differences and similarities, and how these convictions can affect your future.

DUI is short for “driving under the influence” while DWI means “driving while intoxicated.” In some states, DWI means “driving while impaired.” Now, the difference between these two offenses isn’t always clear-cut. In fact, if you check federal law, it doesn’t really recognize any difference between the two. Depending on your state, DUI and DWI can mean the same violation or separate driving behaviours, albeit very similar. In any case, being charged with either offense means that you risked the health and safety of yourself and others when you got behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol, recreational drugs, or even prescription drugs that impair your driving abilities. The two offenses also come with consequences, both legal and financial.

Driving Under The Influence

Driving Under The Influence

Driving Under the Influence is an offense that occurs when you drive with alcohol in your system. The federal legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit is 0.08%. But some states allow drivers to be charged with DUI even if their BAC level is below the legal limit. There are even some states who allow officers to charge a driver with DUI based on his or her erratic driving behavior without having them check the driver’s BAC using a breathalyzer. For example, in North Carolina, drivers can be charged with a DUI if the officer saw behavior that indicated he or she was intoxicated, even if he or she passed a breathalyzer test.

Take note that in some states, DUI is used to indicate a person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, some states such as Maine and Massachusetts use the term “operating under the influence” or OUI which is more than just driving a vehicle while intoxicated. It also includes just sitting in the driver’s seat with keys in the ignition, even if the vehicle isn’t running.

Driving While Impaired

While DWI is quite similar to DUI (and in some states interchangeable), it has one big difference – impaired driving abilities are not limited to just having alcohol in your system. For states who distinguish between the two, impairment can be caused by drugs (whether recreational or prescribed), physical limitations, or even just falling asleep. In short, driving while impaired does not have to be caused by alcohol. Anything that makes you unable to drive safely can be cause for DWI.

Take note that in some states like Arizona, DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. In this particular state, a DWI is considered more severe because it is an offense that is often accompanied by proof of a test which means you really were intoxicated when you displayed visible impaired driving behavior. In New York, on the other hand, the offenses are DWI and DWAI. DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired” which is considered a lesser charge. In this case, the driver may have a BAC between 0.05% and 0.07% which is within the legal limit but it can still impair his or her ability. Because state laws differ, it is very important to find out the specific laws on impaired driving in your state.

Consequences of a DUI or a DWI:


Because state laws differ, the legal and financial consequences of a DUI or DWI aren’t always the same. For example, Illinois is a zero-tolerance state and the consequences of a DUI conviction is your driver’s license getting revoked. In New York, aside from license revocation, you may also face fines and jail time. In California, a DUI charge will stay in your record up to 10 years. Some of the most common consequences of a DUI or DWI offense include the loss of your driver’s license from 30 days to a year and mandated community service. Another possible consequence is the installation of an ignition interlock device on your car’s steering wheel. This device is actually a built-in breathalyzer which needs to show a 0.0% BAC before you can start the car.

If you are found guilty of impaired driving (or you pled guilty), you will most likely lose your license and be required to pay fines as well as court fees if it is your first offense. For a second offense, you may be sentenced with jail time. Probation may be granted, during which you may be required to go to a DUI school and/or perform community service. You will also probably be required by the state to undergo an evaluation of your substance or drinking use patterns as well as attend a drug and alcohol counseling program. If you have multiple DUI arrests on your record, the conviction can become a felony level offense. Take note that the number of offenses required to elevate the DUI to a felony level will differ per state. In Texas, for example, a third DUI arrest will elevate it into a felony. In New Mexico, however, it won’t be a felony until the 4th DUI arrest.

Other than legal consequences, a DUI or DWI conviction can also affect your employment and auto insurance. Most employers run criminal histories and a DUI or DWI conviction will be in your record. While not all employers will mind, some will view it as a safety risk or be disinclined to hire you if it causes their insurance rates to increase. Your own auto insurance will most likely increase as well. To get your license back, you’ll need to get an SR-22 form from your insurance company which proves to the DMV that you have insurance coverage. Since the insurance company will consider you a “high-risk” driver, it will most likely double or triple your premiums. However, not all insurance companies offer SR-22 policies. If your insurance company is one of those, expect your current policy to be canceled and you will need to look for a new one.