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Policewoman Stopping a Driver
The Terms Used for Drunk Driving Vary From State to State

Is There a Difference
Between DUI and DWI?

By BuddyT

Most of the time DUI and DWI are merely different terms for the same offense of drunk driving depending on what state you are in, but in some cases they can indicate charges that have subtle differences in legal ramifications.

Laws vary from state to state, and when it comes to laws regarding drunk driving the different states are all over the alphabet in naming the actual legal charge. Depending on where you are, you can be arrested for DUI, DWI, DUIL, DUII, DWAI, DWUI, DUBAL, OWI, OUI, or OMWI.


This is by far the most common term used for a drunken driving offense in the United States. DUI is an abbreviation for driving under the influence. Also by far, the most common impairing substance is alcohol. However, some states have specific offenses for DUI Drugs and DUI Toxic Vapors (sniffing or huffing paint fumes, butane, paint thinner and similar chemicals).


The second most common acronym is DWI. Depending on the state, this can be an abbreviation for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired. Like driving under the influence, many states proscribe impaired (or "intoxicated") driving as caused by alcohol or other impairing substances such as drugs, plants or chemical compounds.


In jurisdictions where both terms, DUI and DWI are used, they distinguish the difference between driving under the influence (of alcohol) and driving while impaired (by other substances). There is usually little difference, however, in the penalties and consequences provided by the two different charges.


DUIL (driving under the influence of liquor) is used in a few states in case law, but not as a criminal offense.


If you are arrested for drunk driving in Oregon you will be charged with DUII (driving under the influence of an intoxicant).


In two states, Colorado and New York, the acronym "DWAI" (driving while ability impaired) is a lesser included offense to DWI (or DUI). These "lesser offenses" offer the offender less damage to their driver's license, and have certain benefits over pleading to the standard DUI or DWI offense.


One state, Wyoming, uses DWUI (driving while under the influence) for those arrested for drunken driving.


In some states, DUBAL is a type of drunk driving offense that signifies driving with an unlawful blood alcohol level. This applies to cases in which the person arrested has given a blood, breath or urine sample resulting in a blood alcohol level over the legal limit of 0.08. DUBAL may be referred to as a "per se" DUI or "per se" DWI. This means, it is an offense to merely have driven while having the prohibited amount of alcohol in your system regardless of whether any other evidence of impairment was found.


Only three states, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, use the OUI acronym for operating under the influence. The "operating" distinction encompasses more than just driving the vehicle. Even if the vehicle is stopped and not running, someone can be charged with operating under the influence.


Some states, Wisconsin for one, OWI is used for operating while intoxicated. It also includes more than actually driving the vehicle. For example, if a driver is passed out in his vehicle with the keys in the ignition or in his possession, he can be charged with OWI.


OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated) is an acronym used in Ohio from time to time, but the state also uses DUI.


UBAL is the same as DUBAL above, unlawful blood alcohol level. It means your blood alcohol level was above 0.08.

Learn more about driving under the influence.


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