Although there seems to be only a slight nuance between “driving under the influence” (DUI) and “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), they are not the same thing in states that recognize both violations. To further complicate matters, some states nix the terms DUI and DWI entirely and instead use acronyms of their own choosing. To help you make sense of your state’s alcohol and drug traffic laws, Bankrate’s insurance editorial team breaks down the differences between DWI and DUI charges and illustrates how your car insurance could be impacted if you’re convicted of driving while impaired.

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Defining DUI vs. DWI

DUIs and DWIs have slightly different meanings: A DUI refers to driving under the influence, while a DWI means driving while intoxicated or impaired. With a DUI, the charge could mean that the driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s important to note that the drugs do not need to be illicit. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs can also lead to a DUI charge if the person becomes impaired as a result of taking them.

Whether a person is charged with either a DUI or DWI is ultimately determined by the state in which the incident occurred and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits set. DUI and DWI cases vary from state to state. In fact, some states use different terminology entirely to charge an individual who has operated a motor vehicle while intoxicated. You should be familiar with the driving laws in your state to ensure that you drive in accordance with the legal limits for alcohol and drugs at all times.

Whether you’re charged with a DUI or a DWI, the charge only arises in a situation where a law enforcement officer proves you were too impaired to drive.

OUI vs. OWI

In some states, drivers may be charged with either an OUI or OWI. An OUI means operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor, while an OWI means operating while intoxicated. Currently, there are five states that use such terminology when charging drivers with related offenses:

  • Indiana: OWI
  • Iowa: OWI
  • Maine: OUI
  • Massachusetts: OUI
  • Michigan: OWI

OWVI and DUAC

Certain states may charge drivers with an OWVI or DUAC. An OWVI means operating while visibly impaired and DUAC is driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration.

In Michigan, you can be charged with an OWVI if you are visibly impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance and try to operate a motor vehicle. In South Carolina, the term DUAC is used in place of DWI. South Carolina drivers with a BAC above 0.08 percent could be charged with a DUAC.

Potential consequences of a DWI or DUI in each state

After you are convicted of a DUI or DWI, you could face heavy consequences, including fines, license and registration suspensions and even jail time. However, the specific penalties levied depend on many factors, including the state you were convicted in, whether this was your first alcohol-related traffic offense, if you had children in the car with you and how much over the legal limit you were, among others.

For instance, some states will increase your penalties if you are determined to have a “high BAC,” but the definition of high can vary. In Washington, D.C., you might not be considered to have a high BAC until you are at or over 0.20 percent, but in South Carolina, the threshold for a high BAC is only 0.10 percent. Additionally, some states require drivers to install an interlock device in their vehicle after their first DUI, while others only require one after the second offense (or don’t require one at any point).

Traffic laws are constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay abreast of any changes in your state’s statutes. As such, your state’s DMV may be the best source for the most up-to-date information regarding your state’s specific DUI penalties. If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI, you may want to contact an attorney to help you navigate the process.

Will DUIs and DWIs impact my insurance rates?

Almost certainly, but how much so depends on your carrier and other rating factors. Your insurance company looks at the overall probability that you will be involved in an accident by evaluating certain characteristics, including your driving record and, in some states, your age, gender and credit score. Since driving under the influence is a risky behavior, your insurance company will raise your premium to compensate for their increased likelihood of paying out a future claim on your behalf.

Additionally, your insurance company may deem you a high-risk driver after you’re convicted of a DUI or DWI. If this is the case, it may decide to non-renew your policy, forcing you to seek insurance elsewhere. Finding insurance after a DUI can take some shopping, and insurance for high-risk drivers is typically much more expensive than for standard or preferred-risk drivers.

Finally, your license may be suspended after a DUI or DWI, and your state may require you to carry a certificate of financial responsibility, or SR-22, to get it reinstated. An SR-22 is a form filed with the DMV by your insurance company that proves you are maintaining insurance coverage. While an SR-22 should not directly impact your premium, a small fee is typically associated with the filing (usually from $25 to $50). Furthermore, some states require you to carry at least double the state-required minimum liability limits in addition to the SR-22, and these higher limits will increase your rate. In Flordia and Virginia, the form you’d need to file is called an FR-44.

Frequently asked questions

    • Being convicted of a DUI or DWI would make you a high-risk driver, which will generally make obtaining car insurance more difficult. In some cases, you may have to obtain high-risk auto insurance. However, finding coverage is possible and many of the best car insurance companies provide high-risk auto insurance and offer SR-22 filings for drivers who require it.
    • It depends on the state in which you live. In some states, drivers convicted of a DUI or DWI may only need to serve community service hours, while in others, convicted drivers can spend up to a year in jail or longer, depending on the severity of the offense. If you’ve recently been charged with a DUI or DWI, refer to your state’s laws to understand what penalties you may incur or consider contacting an attorney.
    • Again, this depends on the state in which the offense occurred. In most cases, a DUI or DWI will remain on your driving record for three to five years. However, in stricter states — such as California — the offense may stay on your record for 10 years or permanently.
    • The federal legal limit for blood-alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent. However, it’s important to note that if you’re under the age of 21, you will typically face serious penalties if you have a BAC of even 0.01 percent – no matter what your state’s laws are.
    • If you fail a breathalyzer test, you will likely be charged with a DUI or DWI. You could also be charged if you pass the breathalyzer test and fail a field sobriety test.