DWI vs DUI: Is There a Difference?

Home » DWI vs DUI: Is There a Difference?

Each day, 29 people in the country die due to motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. That’s one death every 50 minutes.

The annual cost of these crashes amounts to over $44 billion.

Do you know how to differentiate these crashes as a DWI vs DUI? What is the difference? While the two terms are often used interchangeably, the two offenses are not the same.

Interested in learning the difference between DUI and DWI? Keep reading to learn more!

What Is a DWI?

In many cases, the difference between DUI and DWI depends on the state you’re charged in. 

DWI stands for “Driving While Impaired.” Some states define DWI as “Driving While Intoxicated” instead. In these cases, there isn’t a difference between a DWI vs DUI.

In states that do recognize the separate charges, DWI usually refers to driving while impaired by drugs. This can include either prescribed or recreational drug use.

What Is a DUI?

DUI stands for “Driving Under the Influence.” You can receive a DUI offense if you’re driving with alcohol in your bloodstream.

The federal legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit is 0.08%. However, some states pursue DUI charges at BAC levels of 0.01%. The case often depends on the driver’s age. 

Make sure you understand your state’s individual BAC limit.

In some states, you can receive a DUI without an officer checking your BAC by using a breathalyzer. In other cases, you can receive a DUI based on erratic driving behavior. You can also receive a DUI if an officer suspects you’re under the influence of alcohol or issues a field sobriety test. 

Let’s say you appear impaired by the arresting officer, but your breathalyzer test proves you’re not under the influence. The officer might suspect you’ve used drugs that impaired your ability to drive. The officer can call a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to the scene to perform a series of tests to determine if you’re driving under the influence. 

The DRE will use a multi-step evaluation process to determine if you’re driving under the influence of drugs. Using prescription or nonprescription medications that impair your driving ability can put you at risk. In some states, this is considered drugged driving, and you’ll receive a DUI.

You’re still at risk of receiving drugged driving charges even if you haven’t had a sip of alcohol. 

What’s the Difference?

In 2018, 10,511 people died as a result of a drunk-driving crash. The majority of these cases were DUI crashes because the driver was under the influence of alcohol.

In either a DUI or DWI, the driver exhibits dangerous behavior while behind the wheel of a car. A driver can receive a DUI or DWI if they fail a field sobriety test, even if their BAC is below the state’s legal limit. 

In some states, DUI refers to your behavior, while DWI refers to your blood alcohol content level. Most prosecutors rely on DWI more heavily than on DUI charges. The breathalyzer and blood-alcohol tests provide more concrete evidence than field sobriety test results. In some states, police double-charge drivers with both a DUI and DWI.

In either case, the driver is risking the health and safety of themselves and others. 

Where the offense occurs can impact the legal outcome. For example, some states have zero-tolerance policies that don’t differentiate between a DWI vs DUI. Texas is one of these zero-tolerance states.

In Texas, only minors under the age of 21 can be charged with the less-serious DUI offense. 

If a minor is driving with alcohol in their system, they can be charged, even if their BAC is below the federal legal limit.

For people over the age of 21, getting charged with a DWI has much more serious consequences. According to the Texas Penal Code, a driver can get charged with a DWI if their BAC is over 0.08% or if they’re visibly driving while impaired. 

Blood-alcohol concentration isn’t the only factor considered when an officer determines you’re driving impaired. Drugged driving is also considered impaired driving.

Which Is Worse?

First, determine if the state you live in recognizing DUI and DWI charges as separate offenses. In these states, a DWI is usually the more serious charge. A DUI, on the other hand, is considered a lesser degree of impairment. 

Some states also offer the chance for people to receive a reduced charge for a DWI to DUI if it’s a driver’s first drug- or alcohol-related offense. The driver’s BAC must hit below 0.08%.

Both violations are serious offenses. It’s difficult to overturn a DUI or DWI charge if the office had a reason to pull the driver over. It’s also difficult to overturn the charge if a breathalyzer or field sobriety test proves you’re inebriated. 

Look for a lawyer who specializes in DWI or DUI cases. Their expertise can help.


If you’re convicted or plead guilty, you might experience one or more of these consequences:

  • Temporary suspension or loss of your license
  • Mandated community service
  • Monetary fine
  • Increases car insurance costs or loss of coverage

After a DUI or DWI, you might also have to install an ignition interlock device on your car’s steering wheel. This built-in breathalyzer will ensure you have a 0.0% BAC before you can start the car. 

After a second offense, you may need to spend time in jail. In some cases, you’ll only get placed on probation. You might also need to perform community service.

In order to get your driver’s license back, you’ll likely need to attend defensive driving classes. 

In some states, you’ll also need to undergo an evaluation or your driving or substance use patterns. The results of your evaluation can determine if you need to participate in a drug or alcohol treatment program. The program ranges from attending a few support group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or entering a residential treatment facility. 

Defining the Difference: DWI vs DUI Charges

The main difference between DWI vs DUI is drug vs alcohol impairment. Both can lead to consequences such as fines or jail time. If you’re charged with a DWI, make sure to speak with an experienced lawyer about your case. Here are some additional things to note about the differences between a DWI and DUI charge.

Need help fighting your case? Learn more about our DWI process today.