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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UPDATED: Feb 16, 2022
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- 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
|State||Drunk Driving Offense||Zero Tolerance BAC Level||Enhanced Penalty BAC Level|
|District of Columbia||DUI||0.00||0.2 and 0.25|
|Louisiana||DWI||0.02||0.15 and 0.2|
|Massachusetts||OUI||0.02||0.2 (for drivers aged 17-21)|
|Rhode Island||DUI||0.02||0.1 and 0.15|
|Virginia||DUI||0.02||0.15 and 0.2|
|Wisconsin||DUI||0.00||0.17, 0.2, and 0.25|
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.
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:
|State||How long does it take for points to expire?|
|Alaska||2 points after 12 months|
|California||36 months for minor violations, 10 years for major|
|Colorado||Points do not expire|
|Delaware||Points lose half their value after 12 months|
|Illinois||4-5 years for minor violations, at least 7 for major|
|Iowa||5 years, 12 years for DUIs|
|New Hampshire||3 years|
|New Jersey||3 points per year without violations|
|New Mexico||1 year|
|New York||18 months|
|North Carolina||3 years|
|North Dakota||1 point will be reduced every 3 months after a suspension. 3 points can be removed with a defensive driving course|
|Oklahoma||2 points per 12 months|
|Pennsylvania||3 points per 12 months|
|South Carolina||Points reduce by half after 1 year, fully by 2 years|
|South Dakota||Depends on the violation|
|West Virginia||2 years|
|Wisconsin||Points remain for as long as you have a ticked on your record (about 5 years)|
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:
|Driving Violation||Average Annual Auto Insurance Rates||Average Rate Increase Percentages|
first offense (3-5 years)
|Speeding (less than 20 mph over)||$2,108.40||13%|
|Speeding (more than 20 over)||$2,108.40||13%|
|Hit and run||$2,360.80||27%|
second offense (3-5 years)
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.