What is the difference between a DUI and DWI?

States may use DWI vs. DUI interchangeably, but many distinguish between the two charges. Your state might assess a DUI or DWI charge based on blood alcohol concentration and the age of the driver. Besides dealing with the law, you should avoid a DUI or DWI charge to keep your auto insurance intact.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Feb 16, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • States have different penalties for first offenses and subsequent offenses
  • There are at least six different impaired-driving distinctions, and state may apply them based on a driver’s age
  • If you get caught driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, you may lose your auto insurance and pay higher rates indefinitely

How can you get a DUI, DWI, or a similar charge? The usage of DUI vs. DWI or other charges differs from state to state, and each charge can carry a different penalty. Some states might designate DUI or DWI charges based on age, and others may set charges based on severity. Getting any of these charges will affect your auto insurance rates.

At best, your auto insurance rates increase for at least three to five years. At worst, you may lose your current policy and need to look for high-risk or suspended license auto insurance.

Read on to learn how to distinguish between a DUI and DWI and to learn about related consequences for these charges. If you want to see rates from top auto insurance companies in your area, enter your ZIP code into our free quote tool above.

What is a DUI, and what do similar charges mean?

While some states may use DUI and DWI interchangeably, the abbreviations often have different definitions.

The letters DUI stand for “driving under the influence.” If you get a DUI, it can be for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. The drugs can be legally prescribed, over-the-counter, or illegal.

DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” A police officer can charge you with a DWI if they find that drugs are impairing your faculties or if you were drowsy while driving.

There are other possible charges you might face while driving impaired. For example:

  • DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired.”
  • OUI stands for “operating under the influence.”
  • OVUII stands for “operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant.”
  • OWI stands for “operating while intoxicated.”

The charge you might get depends on the state where you’re driving.

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How do drunk driving laws differ by state?

Specifically, how do different states refer to a DUI and its variations, and what are the penalties? The intricacies of all state laws are too numerous to name, but here are areas we will look at the following blood alcohol concentration limits, penalties, and point expiration periods.

Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits

What is the BAC limit in your state? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that a BAC of 0.08 — also called the “per se” limit — is illegal in all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Utah has the strictest standard of 0.05.

Besides the per se limit, states and municipalities also have zero-tolerance and enhanced-penalty BAC levels.

State Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits

StateDrunk Driving OffenseZero Tolerance BAC LevelEnhanced Penalty BAC Level
District of ColumbiaDUI0.000.2 and 0.25
LouisianaDWI0.020.15 and 0.2
MassachusettsOUI0.020.2 (for drivers aged 17-21)
New HampshireDUI0.020.16
New JerseyDWI0.010.10
New MexicoDUID0.020.16
New YorkDWI0.020.18
North CarolinaDWI0.000.15
North DakotaDUI0.020.18
Rhode IslandDUI0.020.1 and 0.15
South CarolinaDUI0.020.17
South DakotaDUI0.020.17
VirginiaDUI0.020.15 and 0.2
West VirginiaDUI0.020.15
WisconsinDUI0.000.17, 0.2, and 0.25
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In most states, the enhanced penalty BAC limit is double or nearly double that of the per se limit. Pennsylvania’s enhanced limit is stricter than any other state.

DUI/DWI Penalties

In the past, we looked at drunk driving rates by state and coronavirus DUI drop predictions, and we offered a snapshot of DUI penalties in each state. In most states, you will face jail time upon getting caught while driving impaired. Also, you will likely pay a fine for a first offense.

For example, first, second, and third DUI offenses in Montana are misdemeanors. A fourth offense is a felony. Oregon has a minimum jail time of 2 days and a maximum fine of $6,250 for first-time DUI offenses.

Point Expiration Periods

Here is a breakdown of point expirations periods by state:

StateHow long does it take for points to expire?
Alabama2 years
Alaska2 points after 12 months
Arizona12 months
Arkansas36 months
California36 months for minor violations, 10 years for major
ColoradoPoints do not expire
Connecticut24 months
DelawarePoints lose half their value after 12 months
D.C.2 years
Florida5 years
Georgia2 years
Idaho3 years
Illinois4-5 years for minor violations, at least 7 for major
Indiana2 years
Iowa5 years, 12 years for DUIs
Kentucky2 years
Maine1 year
Maryland2 years
Massachusetts6 years
Michigan2 years
Missouri3 years
Montana3 years
Nebraska5 years
Nevada12 months
New Hampshire3 years
New Jersey3 points per year without violations
New Mexico1 year
New York18 months
North Carolina3 years
North Dakota1 point will be reduced every 3 months after a suspension. 3 points can be removed with a defensive driving course
Ohio2 years
Oklahoma2 points per 12 months
Pennsylvania3 points per 12 months
Rhode IslandN/A
South CarolinaPoints reduce by half after 1 year, fully by 2 years
South DakotaDepends on the violation
Tennessee2 years
Texas3 years
Utah3 years
Vermont2 years
Virginia2 years
West Virginia2 years
WisconsinPoints remain for as long as you have a ticked on your record (about 5 years)
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In most states, you will have to wait at least three to five years for the state to remove points off your license.

How do DUIs and DWIs affect your auto insurance?

If you are wondering, “Will a criminal record affect my auto insurance?” the answer is yes. With a DUI or DWI on your record, you run the risk of losing your current auto insurance policy. Also, whether you keep your policy or need to find a new one, your rates will increase.

Here is a breakdown of the different types of moving violations and how they can increase your auto insurance rates:

Average Annual Auto Insurance Rate Increase by Driving Violation
Driving ViolationAverage Annual Auto Insurance RatesAverage Rate Increase Percentages
Clean record$1,857.80N/A
first offense (3-5 years)
Cell phone/texting$2,108.4013%
Speeding (less than 20 mph over)$2,108.4013%
Speeding (more than 20 over)$2,108.4013%
At-fault accident$2,360.4027%
Reckless driving$2,360.8027%
Hit and run$2,360.8027%
(12-24 Months)
second offense (3-5 years)
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Surprisingly, a few DUI or DWI offenses may lead to the smallest increase in your rates, but felony or subsequent offenses lead to the highest increases. Also, major auto insurance companies might not want to assume the risk if you commit two or more DUI/DWI offenses.

In any event, you should avoid driving under the influence of alcohol or any substance. Avoid driving impaired for any reason, and get some rest if you feel tired.

We hope that this discussion of DUI vs. DWI was informative. And if you’re ready to look at rates from top auto insurance companies in your area, enter your ZIP code into our free quote tool below.

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