What does a DWI mean?

The DWI meaning applies to drivers caught behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% (.05% in Utah). You will lose your driver's license and face various criminal charges depending on the laws in your state. Your auto insurance rates will go up with a DWI charge on your record.

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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: May 5, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • DWI is an acronym that stands for “Driving While Intoxicated”
  • The DWI meaning has two different definitions: administrative and criminal
  • There is no difference in auto insurance when it comes to DWI vs. DUI — your rates will go up with either offense

DWI is an acronym that stands for “Driving While Intoxicated.” The DWI meaning is applied only to intoxication by alcohol, unlike a DUI, which applies to drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

What is a DWI charge? You will be charged with a DWI if you’re caught behind the wheel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher. If you have a DWI on your driving record, you can expect your auto insurance rates to go up. 

Insurance companies consider DWI charges high-risk and will often double your rates. You’ll likely be required to carry SR-22 auto insurance, and you may lose coverage with your current insurer if it doesn’t provide that type of policy.

Keep reading to learn more about the DWI meaning vs. DUI and where to find affordable high-risk auto insurance. We explain what happens when you get a DWI and the major differences between DWI vs. DUI in auto insurance and the law.

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What does a DWI mean?

A DWI is a drunk driving offense that means “driving while intoxicated.” Facing DWI charges means your BAC was .08%, and you were legally drunk while driving.

What does DWI mean in law? In law, DWI has two meanings: administrative and criminal. DWI still means “driving while intoxicated,” but how this definition is handled is very different. 

First, the administrative DWI meaning applies to your driver’s license. In this case, DWI means you will lose your license. For example, failing or refusing to take a breathalyzer or chemical sobriety test for DWI will automatically result in a loss of license. 

Second, the criminal definition of DWI applies to the legal consequences of the charge. In this case, DWI could mean going to jail or paying a fine. Criminal definitions of DWI can vary by state, but you could be facing felony charges if you have more than one DWI.

What is the difference between DWI vs. DUI?

The difference between DWI and DUI rests mainly with the criminal definition. Drivers will lose their licenses with either a DUI or DWI charge but face different criminal repercussions depending on what substances are in their systems at the time of arrest.

In this case, the DWI meaning applies only to alcohol intoxication, while DUI refers to drug or alcohol intoxication or a combination of the two. 

Depending on your state, you may face both DWI and criminal drug charges if charged with a DUI. However, some states use DUI and DWI interchangeably. So, if you’re facing charges for driving while intoxicated, get in touch with a lawyer who can help you better understand the auto insurance laws in your state and the legal options available to you.

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What does a DWI mean to auto insurance?

Once you’re charged with a DWI, you cannot reinstate your license or legally drive again until you file an SR-22 insurance form with your local DMV. The SR-22 proves that you carry the minimum levels of car insurance to drive after license revocation.

Filing SR-22 moves you into the high-risk category for auto insurance. High-risk drivers pay more than double the standard rates for car insurance, and DUI insurance rates are some of the most expensive. 

This table shows how DWI auto insurance rates compare to other driving-related offenses:

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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Along with expensive rates, DWIs can stay on your record for five years or more. This means that auto insurance companies that look back farther than three years will continue to charge you for high-risk insurance.

Is cheap auto insurance with a DWI possible? Yes, but reinstating your license after a DWI is a long and expensive process. It will be a few years before you start to see your auto insurance rates drop. So, get quotes from at least three different high-risk insurers to make sure you don’t overpay for coverage.

What happens when you get a DWI?

If the police stop you for suspected drunk driving, the officer will ask you to take a breathalyzer or blood sobriety test.

It is your right to refuse a field sobriety test. However, you will automatically lose your license and be arrested. The police will then test your BAC at the police station to prove whether you were intoxicated, and you will be charged with a DWI offense.

What is a DWI offense?

Typically, first-time DWI offenses are considered misdemeanors. However, multiple DWI offenses or a DWI charge combined with reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter may be considered a felony.

The criminal charges you face for a DWI will vary by state and your criminal record. Take a look at the table below to see DWI laws and punishments by state:

Drunk Driving Laws and Penalties by State

AlabamaNone$600 to $2,10090 DaysNo
AlaskaMin. 72 hours$1,500Min. 90 daysYes
ArizonaMin. 24 hours$250 base fine90 to 360 daysYes
Arkansas24 hours to 1 year$150 to $1,0006 monthsYes
California4 days to 6 months$1,400 to $2,60030 days to 10 monthsYes, in some counties
ColoradoUp to 1 year (DUI), or up to 180 days (DWAI)Up to $1,000 (DUI), or up to $500 (DWAI)9 months (DUI), none for DWAINo
Connecticut2 days up to 6 months$500 to $1,0001 yearNo
DelawareMax. 6 months$500 to $1,15001 to 2 yearsNo
District of ColumbiaMax 90 days$300 to $1,1006 monthsNo
Florida6 to 9 months$500 to $2,000180 days to 1 yearYes
Georgia24 hours to 1 year$300 to $1,000Up to 1 yearNo
HawaiiNone$150 to $1,00090 daysNo
IdahoUp to 6 monthsUp to $1,00090 to 180 daysNo
IllinoisUp to 1 yearUp to $2,500Min. 1 yearYes
Indiana60 days to 1 year$500 to $5,000Up to 2 yearsNo
Iowa48 hours up to 1 year$625 to $1,200180 daysYes, if BAC above .10
Kansas48 hour min.$750 to $1,00030 daysYes
KentuckyNone$600 to $2,10090 daysNo
Louisiana2 days to 6 months$1,00090 daysPossible
Maine30 days$50090 daysNo
MarylandUp to 1 year (DUI); up to 2 months (DWI)Up to $1,000 (DUI); up to $500 (DWI)Min 6 months (DUI & DWI)No
MassachusettsUp to 30 months$500 to $5,0001 yearNo
MichiganUp to 93 daysFrom $100 to $500Up to 6 monthsPossible
MinnesotaUp to 90 days$1,000Up to 90 daysYes
MississippiUp to 48 hours$250 to $1,00090 daysNo
MissouriUp to 6 monthsUp to $50030 daysPossible
Montana2 days to 6 months$300 to $1,0006 monthsPossible
Nebraska7 to 60 daysUp to $500Up to 60 daysNo
Nevada2 days to 6 months$400 to $1,00090 daysPossible
New HampshireNone$500 to $1,2006 monthsNo
New JerseyUp to 30 days$250 to $5003 months to 1 yearPossible
New MexicoUp to 90 daysUp to $500Up to 1 yearYes
New YorkNone$500 to $1,0006 monthsYes
North Carolina24 hours (for level 5 offender) (however, if 3 aggravated factors are present -- Level 1A -- minimum of 12 months)$200 (for level 5 offendor)60 days to 1 yearNo
North DakotaNone$500 to $75091 to 180 daysNo
Ohio3 days to 6 months$250 to $1,0006 months to 3 yearsNo
Oklahoma5 days to 1 yearUp to $1,00030 daysNo
Oregon2 days or 80 hours community services$1,000 to $6,2501 yearYes
PennsylvaniaNone$300NoYes, if refusal to take chemical test
Rhode IslandUp to 1 year$100 to $5002 to 18 monthsNo
South Carolina48 hours to 90 days$400 to $1,0006 monthsNo
South DakotaUp to 1 year$1,00030 days to 1 yearNo
Tennessee48 hours up to 11 months$350 to $1,5001 yearYes
Texas3 to 180 daysUp to $2,00090 to 365 daysNo
Utah48 hours min.$700 min.120 daysNo
VermontUp to 2 yearsUp to $75090 daysNo
VirginiaMin. 5 daysMin. $2501 yearYes (if BAC .15 or above)
Washington24 hours to 1 year$865.50 to $5,00090 days to 1 yearYes
West VirginiaUp to 6 months$100 to $1,00015 to 45 daysPossible
WisconsinNone$150 to $3006 to 9 monthsNo
WyomingUp to 6 monthsUp to $75090 daysYes - if BAC .15 or above
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No matter where you live, DWI offenses almost always result in license revocation. However, jail time and fines vary widely.

What is a medical DWI charge?

Along with the DMV and the judicial system, the state medical board can also mete out punishments and restrictions on medical professionals facing DWI charges.

For example, state boards often require mandatory drug and alcohol treatment for doctors and nurses before returning to practice. If charges involve multiple DWIs, or if the DWI directly relates to their practice of medicine, they could lose their medical licenses.

However, these restrictions apply when a medical professional faces any criminal charge, not just DWI.

DWI Meaning: What You Need To Know

While the DWI definition varies slightly from state to state, the slang DWI meaning is simply “drunk driving.” In most states, DWI is an acronym that stands for “Driving While Intoxicated” and refers specifically to alcohol intoxication. If applicable, the law will differentiate DUI by defining it as drug and/or alcohol intoxication.

The DWI meaning and DUI definition are synonymous in terms of auto insurance — your auto insurance rates will go up either way. Insurance companies will consider you a high-risk driver and charge you accordingly.

However, how DWIs impact your rates is different for every auto insurance company. Before you buy auto insurance coverage, shop with insurers who cater to high-risk drivers to find the most affordable rates. Enter your ZIP code now to compare free quotes from affordable high-risk auto insurance companies near you.

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