DUI vs. DWI: What’s the difference?

DUIs and DWIs both have to do with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but depending on where you live, they can be different offenses with different penalties.

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Andrew HurstAndrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.
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Maria FilindrasMaria FilindrasFinancial AdvisorMaria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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While a DUI and DWI are both associated with drinking (or using drugs) and driving, they aren’t always the same thing. Only some states distinguish between the two offenses, but where they’re different, they can determine how severe your fine is, license suspension, and jail time are after you’re pulled over.

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That said, both are serious driving violations, and having either a DUI or a DWI on your record (or multiple violations) will make it a lot harder for you to find cheap car insurance.

Key takeaways

  • A DUI and DWI are both driving offenses that involve getting behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol or drugs.

  • In lots of places, a DUI and a DWI mean the same thing and are used interchangeably.

  • But in some states a DUI and DWI are different offenses that each have their own penalties.

  • A DUI or DWI conviction raises your car insurance by an average of $1,448 per year.

What is a DUI?

DUI stands for driving under the influence. When someone is cited for a DUI it means that they were behind the wheel of a vehicle after consuming alcohol or drugs.

You don’t have to be driving to get a DUI (and you don’t even have to be in a car). If your BAC is over the legal limit or you’re obviously under the influence and fail a field sobriety test, you can get a DUI behind the wheel of a car, boat, golf cart, lawn mower, or any other vehicle that’s not on your property.

What is a DWI?

DWI stands for driving while intoxicated. Like a DUI, you can get a DWI if you’re pulled over (or found behind the wheel of a vehicle) and your BAC is greater than the legal limit, though states have different rules about how much higher than the legal limit your BAC has to be to result in a DWI.

Punishments for a DWI are usually severe. Depending on how intoxicated you were when you were pulled over and the number of prior alcohol and drug-related moving violations you have, a DWI can be a felony in some states.

What is the difference between a DUI and DWI?

Even though they’re often used interchangeably, and many states don’t make a distinction between them, DUIs and DWIs can have different meanings. Some of the states that have separate definitions for a DUI and DWI include:

  • Arkansas

  • District of Columbia

  • Maryland

  • Oklahoma

Even if your state doesn’t distinguish between a DUI and DWI, you can still face harsher penalties if you’re a repeat offender or were more intoxicated when you were pulled over.

If you receive either a DUI or DWI, you can face fines, jail time, community service, and have your license suspended. You may also be required to pay other fees, attend alcohol or drug treatment, and have to use a breathalyzer installed in your car before you’re allowed to turn the ignition.

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OUI vs. OWI vs. OWVI

A DUI and DWI aren’t the only two names for moving violations that involve drug or alcohol use. Your state may also use the terms OUI, OWI, OWVI, or DUAC. They stand for:

  • OUI: Operating while under the influence

  • OWI: Operating while intoxicated

  • OWVI: Operating while visibly intoxicated

  • DUAC: Driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration

These terms are used in place of DUI and DWI in some states, but they still refer to driving under the influence. Check with your DMV or equivalent agency if you’re not sure what a DUI is called in your state.

Penalties for DWI and DUI in every state

The penalties for driving after drinking or using drugs are different in every state, but if you’re caught driving under the influence you could be fined, imprisoned, and or your license suspended or revoked. 

States usually give out these penalties on a scale: more serious offenses or repeat offenses result in higher fines and more jail time.

How penalties for DWIs and DUIs work

In Maryland, for example, a DUI is more serious than a DWI. Your first DWI can mean a fine of up to $500 and up to two months in prison, while your first DUI can lead to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in prison.

Here’s the average car insurance rate increase after a DUI/DWI and the maximum penalty after your first DUI or DWI in every state (for states where a DUI and a DWI are separate offenses, we included whichever was more serious).

State

Average rate increase after a DUI or DWI

Maximum penalty after first DUI or DWI

Alabama

$1,144

Fine up to $2,100, one year in jail, 90-day license suspension

Alaska

$453

Fine up to $1,500, 72 hours in jail, 90-day license suspension

Arizona

$1,068

Fine up to $250, 10 days in jail, 90-day license suspension

Arkansas

$1,290

Fine up to $1,000, one year in jail, six-month license suspension

California

$3,331

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, six-month license suspension

Colorado

$1,161

Fine up to $1,000, one year in jail, community service, nine-month license suspension

Connecticut

$1,865

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, community service, 45-day license suspension

Delaware

$1,364

Fine up to $1,500, six months in jail, two-year license suspension

District of Columbia

$1,197

Fine up to $1,000, 20 days in jail, six-month license suspension

Florida

$1,242

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, 10-day vehicle impoundment, license suspension of up to six months

Georgia

$1,710

Fine up to $1,000, one year in jail, community service12-month license suspension

Hawaii

$3,035

Fine up to $1,000, five days in jail, community service, one-year license suspension

Idaho

$729

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, 180-day license suspension

Illinois

$1,175

Fine up to $2,500, one year in jail, community service, one-year license suspension

Indiana

$753

Fine up to $5,300, one year in jail, two-year license suspension

Iowa

$746

Fine up to $1,250, one year in jail, six-month license suspension

Kansas

$1,139

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, community service

Kentucky

$2,062

Fine up to $500, six-month license suspension, 90-day treatment program

Louisiana

$1,768

Fine of up to $1,000, six months in jail, 12-month driving license suspension, community service

Maine

$1,279

Fine of up to $600, 96 hours in jail, 275-day license suspension

Maryland

$1,890

Fine of up to $1,000, one year in jail, license suspension of up to six months

Massachusetts

$1,498

Fine up to $5,000, 2.5 years in jail, 90-day license suspension

Michigan

$3,964

Fine up to $500, 93 days in jail, community service, 180-day license suspension

Minnesota

$1,366

Fine up to $3,000, one year in prison, two-year license suspension

Mississippi

$1,251

Fine up to $1,000, 48 hours in jail, 90-day license suspension

Missouri

$879

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, 30-day license suspension

Montana

$1,300

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, six-month license suspension, treatment course

Nebraska

$1,625

Fine up to $500, six months in jail, 30-day license suspension

Nevada

$1,394

Fine up to $1,000, two days in jail and community service, 185-day license suspension

New Hampshire

$1,509

Fine up to $1,200, two-year license suspension

New Jersey

$1,975

Fine up to $400, 30 days in jail, three-month license suspension, treatment, $1,000 surcharge per vehicle

New Mexico

$881

Fine up to $500, 90 days in jail, community service

New York

$1,548

Fine up to $2,500, one year in jail, one-year license suspension

North Carolina

$3,539

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, 90-day license suspension

North Dakota

$1,338

Fine up to $750, two days in jail, 180-day license suspension

Ohio

$864

Fine up to $1,075, six months in jail, 3-year license suspension

Oklahoma

$876

Fine up to $1,000, one year in jail, 180-day license suspension

Oregon

$820

Fine up to $6,250, one year in jail, one-year license suspension

Pennsylvania

$1,253

Fine up to $5,000, six months in jail, six-month license suspension, alcohol treatment program

Rhode Island

$1,929

Fine up to $1,200, one year in jail, community service, one-year license suspension, treatment

South Carolina

$886

Fine up to $400, 30 days in jail, six-month license suspension

South Dakota

$1,491

Fine up to $1,000, 90 days in jail, one-year license suspension

Tennessee

$1,123

Fine up to $1,500, seven days in jail, community service, one-year license suspension

Texas

$1,352

Fine up to $2,000 fine, 180 days in jail, one-year license suspension

Utah

$971

Fines of at least $1,310, 180 days in jail, 120-day license suspension

Vermont

$1,614

Fine up to $750, two days in jail

Virginia

$1,414

Fine up to $2,500, one year in jail, one-year license suspension

Washington

$799

Fine up to $5,000, one year in jail, two-year license suspension

West Virginia

$1,813

Fine up to $1,000, six months in jail, six-month license suspension

Wisconsin

$959

Fine up to $300, six-month license suspension

Wyoming

$1,241

Fine up to $750, six months in jail, 90-day license suspension

Collapse table

Cost of full-coverage car insurance after a DUI.

How much does insurance cost after a DWI or DUI?

Your car insurance rates will also go up after a DUI or DWI — we found that the cost of car insurance increases by an average of $1,448 per year after a DUI. That comes to $263 per month, or $3,153 per year.

Getting a DUI or DWI can also lead to your car insurance company canceling or non-renewing your policy, which means you’d have to shop around for a new policy as a high-risk driver.

You may also have to get an SR-22 through your insurance company before your license is reinstated after a DUI or DWI. 

Sometimes called SR-22 insurance, an SR-22 is a form that your insurance company files on your behalf as proof to your state that you have auto insurance. You’ll also have to pay a small filing fee (which varies by state) for an SR-22.

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How long does a DWI or DUI stay on your driving record?

While a driver with a DWI or DUI will pay more for car insurance than someone with a clean driving record, 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 after enough time has passed, a DUI will “fall off” your record, at least when it comes to your auto insurance rates.

That doesn’t mean that a DUI or DWI will disappear from your record. Even though a past DUI or DWI won’t affect your rates forever, some driving violations may stay on your record for years, or even decades, and some are permanent. Many states use a points system for tracking violations, and if you get too many points, your license could be suspended.

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.

Author

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Expert reviewer

Maria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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