Q

DUI vs. DWI: What's the difference?

A

Some states use DUI and DWI interchangeably, while in other states, they’re slightly different offenses. Both are serious, and will have lasting repercussions on your ability to get affordable car insurance.

Anna Swartz 1600Stephanie Nieves author photo

By

Anna Swartz

Anna Swartz

Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius, specializing in auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Mic, The Dodo, AOL, MSN, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.

&

Stephanie Nieves

Stephanie Nieves

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Stephanie Nieves is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in home and auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, PayScale, Fairygodboss, and The Muse.

Updated September 15, 2021|6 min read

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In some states, the terms driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) can be used interchangeably, while in others, DUI and DWI offenses are defined and punished differently.

If you’re not sure of the DUI vs. DWI laws in your state, it’s a good idea to check and see if your state distinguishes between the two. In Texas, for example, a DUI is driving with a blood alcohol content above zero but below the legal limit, while a more severe DWI is driving with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08%.

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Depending on the state, drunk drivers can also be charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) or operating a vehicle under the influence (OUI). But no matter the acronym, a drunk driving conviction hurts your driving record and can make it harder to get car insurance. If you have a DWI or DUI charge, you may lose your driving privileges or be forced to use an ignition interlock device to start your car.

Key Takeaways

  • Both DUI and DWI refer to driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

  • In some states, a DUI and a DWI refer to slightly different offenses, but the acronyms can often be used interchangeably

  • Having a DUI or DWI conviction on your driving history can make it very difficult to get car insurance

What happens when you get a DUI or DWI?

  1. Police should only pull you over if they have probable cause to suspect you may be driving under the influence, like if you violated a traffic rule or are otherwise driving dangerously. Once they’ve pulled you over, they’ll check to see if you’re intoxicated.

  2. You may be asked to perform what’s called a field sobriety test to show you’re not impaired. These can be simple tasks, like standing on one leg while counting, or walking in a straight line and then turning around. An officer might also ask a potentially impaired driver to follow a light or other object with their eyes.

  3. You might also be asked to take a breathalyzer test, also called a “breath test,” which uses a breath sample to determine the alcohol content of your blood (BAC). Depending on the state, refusing to take a field sobriety test or a Breathalyzer can lead to more penalties, like fines or possible license suspension. You can still be convicted of a DUI without taking a breathalyzer test, so if your aim is to avoid a DUI conviction, refusing a test might not help with that.

What happens if you’re arrested for a DUI or DWI?

If the field tests or the Breathalyzer indicate that you’re intoxicated (in most states, the legal limit is a BAC of 0.08%), it’s likely that your car will be searched, you’ll be taken into custody by the arresting officer and charged, and your car will be towed. If you’ve been arrested at the scene, you’ll likely be booked at a local station, which usually involves being fingerprinted and photographed.

Drivers might also be asked to take a blood or urine test, and again, in some states there are penalties for refusing. You’ll also be asked questions, and, as with any arrest, you have the right not to answer or to speak to an attorney.

Often, drivers are released after being booked. The next step in the process would be your arraignment, when you’ll enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. It’s probably a good idea to get an attorney before your arraignment. Depending on your situation, you may be offered a plea deal (a lawyer can give you advice about whether or not to take it). If you plead guilty, you move on to sentencing. If you plead not guilty, you’ll go to trial, where a judge or jury will hear evidence and decide whether you’re guilty or not.

If you’re found guilty, you’ll also go on to sentencing, when a judge, or sometimes a jury, will hand down the punishment you’ll face as a result of your DUI conviction.

Summary

Remember, no online resource, no matter how helpfully written, is a substitute for actual legal advice, so if you’re facing DUI charges and need help, speak to an actual lawyer or legal professional.

What are the consequences of a DUI conviction?

The severity of a DUI varies depending on the DUI laws where you are, and if you have a history of drunk driving. In some U.S. states, first DUI offenses are misdemeanors and subsequent offenses are felonies; in others, all DUI offenses are misdemeanors. Whether or not a DUI is considered a criminal offense — as opposed to a traffic violation — also depends on your state, but in most places, driving while intoxicated is a criminal offense.

In some states, the severity of the offense depends in part on whether or not an impaired driver injured someone else. But the consequences of a DUI are always serious, and can include:

  • License suspension or revocation

  • Jail time

  • Having your car impounded or confiscated

  • Having your license plate confiscated

  • Mandatory alcohol or substance abuse treatment programs

  • Mandatory community service

  • Sobriety monitoring

  • An ignition interlock device (basically a Breathalyzer hooked up to your car that prevents the engine from running if it detects alcohol)

If you’re facing DUI or DWI charges and you don’t fully understand the drunk driving laws in your state, speak to an attorney or a legal professional who can help you understand the potential consequences you’re facing.

DUI/DWI laws by state

Different states have different laws for driving under the influence. In one state, you could be looking at a fine and license suspension for your first offense, while in another, you could end up serving jail time. Here are the DUI/DWI consequences in some states:

StateFirst offenseSecond offenseThird offense
ArizonaA $250 fine, license suspension for 90 days to a year, 1-10 days in jail, and you're required to have an interlock ignition device on your carA $500 fine, license suspension for a year, 30-90 days in jail, and you're required to have an interlock ignition device on your carA $750 fine, license suspension for a year, four or more months in jail, and you're required to have an interlock ignition device on your car
ArkansasLicense suspended for six monthsLicense suspended for two yearsLicense suspended for two and a half years
CaliforniaMust enroll in a DUI program, pay a restriction and reissue fee, and receive a license that restricts you to drive to and from work and your DUI programMust enroll in a DUI program, and license suspension for two years or a revocation of up to five yearsMust enroll in a DUI program, and license suspension for two years or a revocation of up to five years
ColoradoLicense suspended for nine monthsLicense suspended for a yearLicense suspended for two years
IllinoisLicense suspension for six months, up to $2,500 in fines, and potential jail timeLicense suspension for no less than five years, up to $2,500 in fines, and potential jail timeUp to $25,000 fine, between three and seven years in jail, and license suspension for no less than 10 years
MarylandDUI: Up to a $1,000 fine, up to one year in jail, and your license may be revoked for up to six months. DWI: Up to a $500 fine, up to two months in jail, and your license suspended for six monthsDUI: A $2,000 fine, up to two years in jail, and your license may be revoked for up to one year. DWI: A $500 fine, up to one year in jail, and your license may be suspended for 9 to 12 monthsLicense will be suspended for one year, and you must participate in the Ignition Interlock Program
MinnesotaLicense suspension for 30 days up to a year, and potential jail timeRequired to use ignition interlock or unable to drive for one to two yearsRequired to use ignition interlock for three to six years, or you permanently won’t be able to drive
MissouriLicense suspension for 90 daysLicense revoked for one year and possibly a 5-year license denialA 10-year license denial
New YorkA $500 to $1,000 fine, a year in jail, and license revoked for at least six monthsA $1,000 to $5,000 fine, up to four years in jail, and license revoked for a yearA $2,000 to $10,000 fine, 7 years in jail, and license revoked for at least one year
North CarolinaA fine of up to $200, and jail time between one and 60 daysA fine of up to $500, and jail time between two and 120 daysA fine of up to $1,000, and jail time from three days to six months
TexasUp to a $2,000 fine, up to 180 days in jail, and license suspension for a yearUp to a $4,000 fine, one month to a year in jail, and the license suspension for two yearsA $10,000 fine, two to 10 years in jail, and license suspension for two years
VirginiaA $250 fine, license revoked for one yearA $500 fine, license revoked for three years, possible jail time for up to one yearA $1,000 fine, and your license will be revoked

How will a DUI or DWI affect my car insurance?

A DUI is a serious offense, and having a DUI conviction on your record will almost certainly affect your insurance premiums.

Premiums are calculated based on how risky a driver your carrier thinks you are, and a DUI conviction sets off some serious alarm bells for an insurance company. The more expensive they think you’ll be to insure, the more you’ll have to pay in your regular premiums. 

Here’s how the average cost of insurance with a DUI compares to the cost of car insurance with other types of violations on your driving record. 

ViolationAverage annual cost
Hit and Run$3,182
DUI$3,153
Driving with a suspended license$3,117
Racing$3,087
Reckless Driving$3,013
At-fault Accident$2,555
Driving with an open container$2,485
Speeding Ticket$2,277
Passing a school bus$2,233
Improper passing$2,152
Following too closely$2,140
Illegal turn$2,123
Failure to stop at a red light$2,122
Failure to yield$2,122
Failure to show documents$2,075
Driving without Lights$2,074
Driving with expired registration$2,068
Not at-fault Accident$1,784

Data provided by Quadrant Information Services and based on rates for U.S. drivers ages 30-45

If you have a DUI conviction, your carrier will likely raise your rates significantly, or may not renew your coverage at all. In that case, you’d have to look for carriers that have coverage options for high-risk drivers

Not all insurance companies will insure someone with a DUI or DWI conviction, and the ones that are willing to will likely charge higher premiums and may not offer the same range of coverage that you’d find with standard car insurance.

SR-22 auto insurance

If your license has been suspended because of a DUI conviction, you may have to ask your insurance carrier for a form called an SR-22, which proves to your state that you have auto insurance, and is usually a requirement for you to get your license back. SR-22 insurance isn’t a separate car insurance policy, it’s just regular auto insurance, but you must notify the insurance company that you need an SR-22.

They’ll then send the SR-22 to your DMV or equivalent department, which fulfils the proof of insurance you need in order to end your license suspension. But because requiring an SR-22 form lets an insurance carrier know that your license has been suspended, it signals to them that you’re riskier to insure, and you’ll likely see much higher rates.

➞ Learn more about getting car insurance with a suspended license here

How long does a DUI stay on my driving record?

Having a DUI or DWI conviction on your MVR, or motor vehicle record will lead to much higher car insurance premiums. Car insurance companies will look at your driving history, or MVR, as a tool for calculating how high or low to set your rates. A recent DUI conviction will lead to much higher rates, and may even lead to being denied a car insurance policy completely. But the good news is that a DUI or DWI won’t affect your rates forever.

Most insurance companies only look at the past three to five years of your driving history when calculating your premiums. So a DUI conviction from 10 years ago may not affect your rates as long as you’ve maintained a spotless driving record in the years since.

As for how long a DUI or DWI will stay on your driving record with the DMV, that varies state-to-state. Many states use a points system to track driving violations, and different types of violations will remain on your record for different lengths of time.

In California, for example, points for more minor violations like speeding or making an illegal turn will stay on your record for three years, while a DUI will stay on your record for 10 years. Check with your DMV or equivalent department to find out the rules about driving records in your state. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is worse, a DUI or DWI?

In the states where a DWI and DUI are differentiated, a DWI typically refers to someone driving with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit, while a DUI refers to someone who is impaired by any drug. A DWI may lead to greater consequences, depending on where you live.

Is a DWI considered a criminal offense?

In most U.S. states, a DWI is considered a criminal offense. Unlike a traffic violation, which eventually falls off your state driving record, a DWI may stay on your record permanently and show up as a misdemeanor or felony depending on how many offenses you have and the state you live in.