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Everything You Need to Know About DUI vs. DWI

What if a single bad decision affected you for the rest of your life? 

That’s what it feels like for many who are convicted of driving while intoxicated or impaired. They quickly discover how difficult it can be to find the best car insurance after getting convicted. But other, more far-reaching consequences can affect your life and your career. 

Every driver needs to arm themselves with the knowledge they need on the road. For example, most drivers don’t know the difference between a DUI and DWI. Are you one of them? Keep reading to discover everything you need to know! 

What Is a DUI? 

The term “DUI” simply means “driving under the influence.” In this case, the “influence” refers to either alcohol or drugs. 

Many mistakenly think they can only get a drug-related DUI if they are using illegal drugs. However, this term encompasses all drug use, including things you may have been prescribed by your doctor. Ultimately, the purpose of this law is to help keep unsafe drivers from getting behind the wheel when under the influence. 

What Is a DWI? 

The term “DWI” means “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” Some states may only have a DWI policy in place of a DUI policy. In such states, there is no need to worry about the distinction between the terms. 

In states that do have policies for both DUIs and DWIs, the difference usually comes down to how high your blood alcohol content (BAC) is. And before we dive into more of the differences between these classifications, we need to review the importance of your BAC in the eyes of the law. 

The Importance of Your Blood Alcohol Content 

Your blood alcohol content is the most reliable way for police officers and courts to measure the intensity of intoxication. In most states, the standard BAC to trigger a DUI is .08 percent or higher. The notable exception is Utah, where a BAC of .05 percent or higher is all that is required. 

There are some states where someone can get convicted of a DWI for a lower level of blood alcohol content. For example, Maryland and Oklahoma can give someone a DWI for having a BAC close to .08, but only if they can also prove the driver was impaired. 

Speaking of impairment, Arizona is the rare state where someone may be convicted of a DUI for a BAC of lower than .08, but only if the authorities can prove the driver is impaired. Arkansas and Texas have DUI laws that explicitly target minors who drive drunk. In Arkansas, those under 21 can get a DUI if their blood alcohol content is between .02 and .08, while Texas drivers under 21 can get a DUI for having any alcohol in their system. 

While it’s always possible to hire a lawyer to argue in your defense, keep in mind that many courts consider BAC evidence taken with a breathalyzer to be definitive. 

What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI? 

Some states only have a DUI or DWI law in place. In these states, there is no functional difference between the terms. In states that have both, the difference comes down to the driver’s blood alcohol content and whether the police can prove the driver was impaired. 

Additionally, in states that have both DUIs and DWIs, the punishment is usually more severe for one than the other (more on this momentarily). In Utah, for example, a defendant accused of DUI can sometimes effectively plead down to a DWI. 

By fully understanding the different penalties for each conviction, you can better understand the dangers of driving in an intoxicated or impaired state. This knowledge may help you avoid certain penalties and even help you save on insurance if you’re convicted. 

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Understanding Different Penalties for DUI vs. DWI 

There are only nine states that have both driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated laws. These states are Arizona, Arkansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. 

Of those states, Arizona and Minnesota offer the same level of legal punishment for both offenses. In Arkansas and Texas, a DWI is considered worse and carries a harsher punishment. But in Maryland, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah, a DUI is considered worse and carries a more severe punishment. 

Ultimately, it’s important to know that alcohol and drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs) can have different effects on different drivers. It’s important to always play it safe before you get behind the wheel, especially if you want to avoid the increased cost of insurance that comes with a conviction. 

Other Terms Your State May Use 

So far, we have focused mostly on the distinction between driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated. However, some states may use different designations to highlight either a higher degree of intoxication or impairment or simply because they prefer to use a different kind of designation. 

For example, New York is a state that has both DUI and DWI penalties. The state also has a special “aggravated DWI” charge that carries a higher penalty for drivers whose BAC is .18 percent or greater. That same state also has a driving while alcohol impaired (DWAI) charge, which can be used against drivers whose BAC is higher than .05 percent but lower than .07 percent. 

Meanwhile, there are five states that prefer not to use driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated terminology. The states are Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan. In these states, drivers are charged with either operating while intoxicated (OWI, the term used in Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan) or operating under the influence (OUI, the term used in Maine and Massachusetts). 

The Legal Implications of Driving Under the Influence or While Impaired 

As you can tell, there are plenty of different terms states use to charge drivers for either drunk driving or driving while impaired by drugs. Regardless of the state you are in and the terms the state uses, though, it’s important to understand the legal implications of getting convicted. 

For example, you must first be arrested before you can be convicted. The arrest is a matter of public record and it, as well as an ensuing conviction, can potentially affect your ability to find work later. Meanwhile, a conviction leads to immediate consequences, including losing your license and having to pay hundreds (perhaps even thousands) in fines. 

You can potentially face jail time, though this is less likely for first-time offenses. If convicted, you will likely need to attend a mandatory substance-abuse recovery program. The biggest issue, though, has to do with your car insurance. 

Once convicted, you’ll need to file an SR-22 with your state for a minimum of three years. This will increase how much you pay for insurance coverage, so it’s important to get the best possible rates as soon as you can. Typically, switching carriers is the best way to save! 

Get the SR-22 Insurance You’ve Been Looking For! 

Now you know the differences between a DUI and DWI. But do you know where you can find the best possible SR-22 insurance that helps you save big when you need it the most? 

Here at SR-22 Adviser, we’re ready to give you both the support and the rates you deserve. Ready to finally stop paying too much for car insurance? To get started, come get competitive quotes online from our partner today! 

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