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What is a DWI?

When you read content about drunk driving consequences online, you will see two terms used to describe drunk driving offenses. They are Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). What is not always clear is the actual difference between the two, DUI vs. DWI. Both are used to describe impaired driving. Let’s take a closer look.

So, what is a DWI? DWI, as mentioned, stands for driving while intoxicated or, in some states, driving while impaired. In most states, this means driving with a BAC over the legal limit. For drivers over 21, this is generally a BAC level of .08. The level is lower for drivers under 21, ranging from 0 to .02 according to

In some states, DWI refers to driving under the influence of a drug other than alcohol, including prescription medications that impair your driving. When it is shortened to driving while impaired, it can even include driving while excessively tired. We hope you have a better understanding of “what is a DWI”.

What is a DUI?

DUI stands for driving under the influence. The difference between DUI and DWI varies by state. In some states, driving under the influence means driving with an “enhanced penalty” BAC, in the .15 to .20 range. In these states, driving under the influence may be worse than driving while intoxicated. It may include drugs other than alcohol. In many states, however, there is no difference, and the terms are used completely interchangeably. You will often see DWI/DUI or the reverse on lawyers’ websites in those states.

Although this may be confusing, the terms are simply a result of the patchwork of laws across the country.

DUI vs DWI: What Other Terms are Used?

Some states also use other terms for drunk driving. For example, in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, the term Operating Under the Influence (OUI) is used, which allows somebody to be charged even if the vehicle is not running. Here are some other terms that might be used in different states:

  • OWI: Operating While Intoxicated
  • OVI: Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated
  • OMVI: Operating a Motor Vehicle while Impaired
  • DUII: Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants
  • DUII-CS: Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants: Controlled Substances
  • DWAI: Driving While Ability Impaired
  • ADWI: Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated
  • OVUII: Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant

However, all of these terms are just shorthand for various DUI laws on the books in different states. Different state laws use different terms, different definitions, and have different penalties. Some of these terms refer to more serious offenses. For example, in New York, Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated means driving with a BAC of .18 or higher. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the same term refers to causing death or injury because you were driving drunk. It can also mean driving drunk with a child in the car or driving while under the influence of illegal drugs. This is sometimes a felony and can be called felony DUI.

When it comes to specific charges, though, it is crucial to understand how the terms DUI vs. DWI are used in your state, which may require checking with your lawyer. The severity of your offense under state law determines the consequences you face for drunk driving. In many cases, you can maintain your driving privileges with an ignition interlock device. If so, or to find out more about ignition interlock programs in your state, contact RoadGuard Interlock today.


*Links to any third-party websites herein are provided for your reference and convenience only. RoadGuard Interlock did not create nor develop and does not own any such third-party websites. RoadGuard Interlock does not endorse nor support the content of, nor any opinions stated in any such third-party website links. RoadGuard Interlock is not responsible for the content of any third-party website or its accuracy or reliability. Nothing contained in this article or in any such third-party website shall be considered legal advice or be deemed to constitute legal advice. For any legal advice concerning a DUI arrest, charge, conviction, or consequences thereof, you should contact an attorney of your choice.