Understanding the Difference Between a DUI and DWI
Understanding the Difference Between a DUI and DWI

Frequently, people use the terms DUI and DWI interchangeably. While there are some similarities, there are also differences. Both terms involve driving or operating some type of motor vehicle, such as a car, boat, or motorcycle, while being intoxicated.

Overview of a DUI versus DWI

The term DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence,” which involves both alcohol and drugs, covering not only illicit street drugs but also prescription and over-the-counter medication. Regardless, the primary focus is on a person’s impaired driving, which is extremely dangerous to the driver, passengers, and other people on the road. DWI stands for “Driving While Intoxicated,” which also covers alcohol and drugs. Both DUIs and DWIs are serious offenses.

Comparisons between a DUI and DWI

A DUI and DWI vary somewhat according to the state, which may or may not be applicable to alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications, or any other substance that can impair driving, such as sniffing paint or glue.

The blood alcohol level or blood alcohol content (BAC) considered impaired for both a DUI and DWI in most states is 0.08 percent for drivers aged 21 and older. However, even without the BAC, if an officer believes the driver is impaired, an arrest can be made. For anyone under the age of 21, the BAC drops to just 0.02 percent, and in fact, some states have adopted a no BAC tolerance. This means even 0.01 percent is enough for an arrest and possible conviction. In a few states, including Colorado, a BAC of 0.05 percent is considered impaired for anyone 21 and older, and for most states, the level for anyone driving on a commercial license is 0.04 percent.

Penalties for a DUI and DWI vary somewhat according to state and the number of prior DUIs or DWIs. Penalties may include lost driving privileges, jail time, community service, rehabilitation, and hefty fines.

Being Arrested

If an individual swerves on the road, runs stops signs or stop lights, or drives erratically to indicate possible impairment, an officer will pull him or her over. If the driver is suspected of being impaired and capable, a series of field sobriety tests will be performed. If the driver barely passes, a Breathalyzer test is performed. If the driver does not pass the field sobriety tests, it will be at the discretion of the officer to administer a BAC test.

In most states, if an officer requests a driver to take a Breathalyzer test and the person refuses, it is an automatic arrest for DUI or DWI. Once back at the police station, a mandatory blood draw is ordered to confirm the actual blood alcohol level. If alcohol is not the culprit, sometimes additional blood work will be ordered to identify the type or types of drugs in a person’s system.

These tests are not only to identify the cause of impairment from a legal perspective but also for the person’s safety, since undetected dangerous drug levels can lead to serious injury or death. Also note that in some states, including Arizona, any driving impairment related to the consumption of alcohol can be considered either a civil or criminal offense.

Of course, if passengers in a vehicle driven by someone under the influence or other people on the road are injured or killed by an impaired driver, the driver can be charged with a number of major crimes, including vehicular homicide. If convicted, that individual can expect to spend several years in prison.

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