DWI vs. DUI: What Is the Difference?

While there are some DWI vs. DUI differences, both are charges for being caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. State definitions differ between DUI and DWI, and some may use one, both, or an entirely different term like OWI. Both DUI and DWI can affect your car insurance significantly, increasing your rates by an average of 74%.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

UPDATED: Feb 28, 2022

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Here's what you need to know...

  • States interpret the terms DWI vs. DUI differently, but they typically refer to drunk or drugged driving
  • Penalties for DWI and DUI cases include fines, jail time, and license suspension
  • Getting a DWI or DUI charge generally results in an average increase of 74% in car insurance rates

Alcohol-related accidents are some of the most prevalent crimes on the road. And there were 10,142 deaths recorded from drunk-driving accidents in 2019. Aside from penalties like fines and license suspensions, another consequence of such cases is an increase in car insurance rates. So, to help you understand the implications of a DWI vs. DUI charge, read on to learn the difference, penalties, and more.

If you need to get car insurance to meet the minimum requirements after a DUI or DWI case, use our quote tool today to compare quotes in your area.

What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

You may have heard both of the terms DUI and DWI mentioned in relation to impaired driving. But what is the difference between DUI vs. DWI? While they may be similar in some states, they are not necessarily the same in all cases. DUI stands for driving under the influence, referring to alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or impaired.

Understanding the difference between DUI and DWI meaning can be tricky due to variations in state laws and how they interpret them. However, the bottom line is that you can be charged with either a DWI or a DUI if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, depending on the state. In any case, both can have serious consequences on your driving record and life.

What about OUI vs. OWI?

In some states, you may hear the terms OUI and OWI instead. OUI is short for driving under the influence, while OWI is operating while intoxicated. Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan currently use OWI, while Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island use OUI.

While they have similar definitions, OUI and OWI tend to have a broader scope due to the use of the word “operating.” It means that the charge applies to more than just driving, so it can still apply to cases when a vehicle is not running.

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State-to-State Differences in Handling DWI and DUI Cases

Some states only use DWI or DUI to refer to drunken driving cases. However, for those states that use both terms, one term will typically refer to driving while intoxicated with alcohol while the other is for other substances like recreational drugs.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limit

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the main metric that states employ to determine whether someone should be charged with a DWI vs. DUI case. However, the actual limit may also vary in different places. Generally, most states charge a DUI for a BAC of at least 0.08%, the federal limit to driving legally in the United States.

That said, Utah’s BAC limit is much lower at 0.05%. At the same time, drivers under 21, can be charged with a DUI case with a BAC of as low as 0.02%. In most cases, you may also face additional penalties if your BAC is 0.15% or higher.

Contrary to popular assumptions, it is also possible to get charged with a DUI even without the breathalyzer test. For example, if an officer notices erratic driving, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or other signs of alcohol or drug intoxication, they may also issue a DUI charge.

Penalties for DUI or DWI Charges

The penalties for DUI or DWI charges can vary based on where you live, but these offenses typically result in license suspension, fines, and vehicle impoundment. However, the consequences can be more serious for zero-tolerance states. Generally, the penalties get more severe depending on whether it is your first, second, or third offense. 

This table outlines the basics by state.

Penalties for DUI or DWI Charges in Different States

StateOffenseFinesJail TimeLicense Suspension
AlabamaDUIMaximum $2,100Maximum one year90 days
AlaskaDUIMinimum $1,500Minimum 72 hours90 days
ArizonaDUIMinimum $250Maximum ten days90 days
ArkansasDUI and DWIMaximum $1,000 in finesMaximum one year6 months (with alcohol treatment)
CaliforniaDUIMaximum $1,000 in finesMaximum six months6 months (with DUI school)
ColoradoDUIMaximum $1,000 in finesMinimum five days9 months (with community service)
ConnecticutDUIMaximum $1,000 in finesMaximum one year45 days
DelawareDUIMinimum $1,500 in finesMaximum one year12 months (up to 2 years)
District of ColumbiaDUI and DWIMaximum $1,000 in finesMaximum 180 days6 months
FloridaDUIMaximum $1,000 in finesMaximum six months6 months
GeorgiaDUIMinimum $300Maximum ten days120 days
HawaiiDUI and DWIMinimum $1,000 in finesMaximum five days12 months
IdahoDUIMinimum $1,000Maximum one year90 days
IllinoisDUIMaximum $2,500Maximum one year12 months
IndianaDUIMaximum $5,000Maximum one year180 days
IowaDUI, DWI, and OWIMaximum $1,250Maximum one year180 days
KansasDUIMaximum $1,000Maximum two days30 days
KentuckyDUI and DWIMaximum $500Maximum 30 days120 days (with community service)
LouisianaDUI and DWIMaximum $1,000Maximum six monthsNone (with community service and rehab)
MaineDUI and DWIMaximum $500None150 days
MarylandDUI and DWIMaximum $1,000Maximum one year6 months
MassachusettsDUIMaximum $5,000Maximum 2.5 years90 days
MichiganOWIMaximum $500Maximum 93 days30 days
MinnesotaDUIMaximum $3,000Maximum one year12 months
MississippiDUI and DWIMaximum $1,000Maximum 48 hours2 years
MissouriDUI and DWIMaximum 1,000Maximum six months90 days
MontanaDUIMaximum $1,000Maximum six months6 months
NebraskaDUI and DWIMaximum $500Maximum 60 days6 months
NevadaDUI and DWIMaximum $400Maximum 180 days90 days
New HampshireDUI and DWIMaximum $1,200None9 months
New JerseyDUI and DWIMaximum $500Maximum 30 days3 months
New MexicoDUI and DWIMaximum $500Maximum 90 days12 months
New YorkDUIMaximum $2,500Maximum one year6 months
North CarolinaDUI and DWILevel-basedLevel-based12 months
North DakotaDUIMaximum $750Maximum two days91 days
OhioDUI and DWIMaximum $1,075Maximum six months90 days
OklahomaDUI and DWIMaximum $1,000Maximum one year6 months
OregonDUIIMaximum $6,250Maximum one year90 days
PennsylvaniaDUIMaximum $5,000Maximum six months12 months
Rhode IslandDUIMaximum $1,200Maximum one year30-180 days
South CarolinaDUI and DUACMaximum $1,000Maximum 90 days6 months
South DakotaDUI and DWIMaximum $2,000Maximum one year30 days
TennesseeDUIMaximum 1,500Maximum seven days12 months
TexasDUI and DWIMaximum $4,000Maximum six months90 days
UtahDUI and DWIMaximum $1,310Maximum 180 days120 days
VermontDUI and DWIMaxmum $750Maximum two years90 days
VirginiaDUI and DWIMaximum $2,500Maximum one year12 months
WashingtonDUIMaximum $5,000Maximum one year90 days
West VirginiaDUIMaximum $1,000Maximum six months6 months
WisconsinOWIMaximum $3,000None9 months
WyomingDUI and DWIMaximum $750Maximum six months90 days
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To give you a glimpse of the potential ramifications from these cases, here is a summary highlighting the penalties from DUI or DWI cases:

Fines

DUI cases almost always result in fines. In Arizona, the fine can go as low as $250 and as high as $6,250 in Oregon for a first offense. It can go up significantly if you have had prior DUI convictions.

Jail Time

Penalties on jail time also differ significantly per state. For example, Maine does not impose any for the first offense, but Alaska requires a minimum of 72 hours. In most cases, first-offense DUI cases are classified as a misdemeanor, so the punishment should not be any longer than six months to a year in jail.

Naturally, the maximum jail time can go up if you have other prior DUI convictions. Once you reach the second or third offense, the case becomes a felony. This may differ by state.

License Suspension

A license suspension is the most common penalty from a DUI or DWI case, but the length may vary significantly based on where you live. On average, most suspensions hold for 90 days or three months. Still, other places can go as long as six to 12 months, such as Arkansas, California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, and others.

Similarly, you may also find places with looser rules. For example, Kansas and Michigan impose a 30-day suspension, while Connecticut imposes 45 days. Aside from this, other states may also have additional requirements like alcohol treatment, community service, or rehab.

Underage Penalties

The penalties for underage drivers charged with a DUI or DWI are usually lighter than those for adults. For example, some may require community service in place of jail time. That said, since the BAC limit for minors is much lower at 0.02%, they may receive standard penalties if they reach the federal BAC limit of 0.08%.

Some states are also much stricter and have zero-tolerance laws. For these areas, even drivers under 21 will be charged with a criminal offense if they are caught driving with a measurable amount of alcohol in their system.

How DUI and DWI Cases Affect Your Car Insurance Rates

Regardless of whether you are charged with a DWI or a DUI, insurance companies generally charge more for car insurance with a bad driving record. Some may even drop your policy completely due to the perceived risk of reckless driving. It will be more difficult to get a new policy at an affordable rate if this happens due to your record.

How much will your insurance rates increase from a DUI conviction?

The same increase will vary based on where you live and what rates your insurance company imposes. To give you an estimate the national average increase in auto insurance is 74% for drivers convicted of DUI. It is significantly higher than 21% from speeding and 44% from an accident.

With that said, it is worth noting that 74% is merely an average, so you might encounter larger increases in some places. For example, the average increase in North Carolina is at 319%, much higher than the national average. Many other states also have an estimate of over 100% increase, such as Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, and Hawaii.

Other than this, car insurance rates may vary by age and gender, making it difficult to give an accurate answer as to how much your rates will increase. Shopping around is the best way to find out how much insurance will cost for you after a DUI or DWI.

How long will a DUI case affect your insurance rates?

In most cases, a DUI case can affect your auto insurance rates for three to five years. However, in California, the case stays on your driving record for ten years, during which you will likely need to pay higher rates.

It does depend, however, on your insurance company, which will have its own rules.

Why do you need an SR-22 or FR-44 after a DUI charge?

After getting your license reinstated, you may also need to get an SR-22, which many states require after committing major driving offenses. The SR-22 or FR-44 in some states like Virginia and Florida is a certificate to verify that you have the minimum car insurance requirements mandated by the law.

In most cases, you should be able to file for an SR-22 or FR-44 with your insurance company. If not, you can check with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Secretary of State (SOS). Even if you do not own a vehicle, you should still file for a non-owners SR-22 if you plan to drive or get your license.

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Compare Car Insurance Rates to Find the Best Policy after a DWI or DUI Case

Dealing with the aftermath of a DWI vs. DUI is understandably challenging, so finding the right car insurance policy will be a critical step. As discussed in this guide, DWI vs. DUI charges come with different penalties, but the one constant is that your car insurance rates will increase. So if you need help finding a policy after reinstating your license, you can use our quote tool to compare rates and find the best policy.

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