DUI vs. DWI: What is the Difference Between the State Laws?

DUI vs. DWI: What is the Difference between the State Laws?

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: June 7, 2024 6:13pm CDT

DUI vs. DWI: What is the Difference between the State Laws?

Although you may not have ever been pulled over for or suspected of drunk driving, there is a good chance you’ve heard the terms DUI and DWI mentioned at some point in your life.

But what is the difference between the two charges?

While people often use the terms interchangeably, it is crucial to understand the nuances of each state law regarding driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI).

In this resource article, we explore the various DUI and DWI laws across the United States and explain the differences between them.

With this knowledge about these laws and DUI vs. DWI facts, you can make informed decisions about your safety and the safety of others.

What’s the Difference between DUI and DWI?

When it comes to driving under the influence, many people think that DUI and DWI mean the same thing. However, the two have distinct differences, including each state having its own laws and penalties.

DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” It generally means that a driver is charged with having too much alcohol or drugs in their system, which renders them unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.

DUI vs. DWI Laws by State

On the other hand, DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated.” It refers to the act of operating a motor vehicle while having any amount of alcohol or drugs in your system, regardless of whether the driver is impaired or not.

In some states, the laws differentiate between DUI and DWI by blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. For example, a driver that has a BAC of 0.08% or higher in some states can be charged with a DUI instead of a DWI.

Yet, each crime may have a different BAC level amount in other states.

Just like how the laws about the BAC are similar yet can vary from state to state, so too the DUI and DWI punishment laws are similar but vary across the country. However, DWI is typically the less strict of the two.

This concept of uniqueness among the states is why knowing the potential repercussions you can face if convicted is all the more critical.

Punishments for DWI and DUI

In some cases, punishments for convictions can include:

Each state has different laws and regulations regarding DUI/DWI convictions, so it is important to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific laws or those of the state where you are being charged.

That way, you can know what penalties you could face if convicted. A good way to accomplish that if you face charges is to consult a DUI or DWI lawyer to represent you.

Let’s begin with going through five of the most strict DUI and DWI states.

Alabama DUI Laws

Whether you reside in Alabama or were just driving through the state and got pulled over, it is essential to know the various DUI and DWI laws in Alabama.

In some states, a DWI charge is the more severe crime and suggests the motorist’s blood alcohol level surpasses the amount authorized by law.

Conversely, the less serious of the two charges, DUI, indicates the individual has a level of impairment but is still within legal limits.

DWI Laws in Alabama

Alabama DUI and DWI laws

However, Alabama is different in that DUI refers to both DUI and DWI situations.

Alabama does not discriminate between the two terms, although it does have stricter rules for minors, known as s zero zero-tolerance policy.

Alabama’s zero-tolerance policy sets the BAC limit for minors at .02% instead of the .08% BAC limit for adults who are pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol.

That means anyone aged 21 and above will be charged with a misdemeanor for their first DUI.

The first time DUI misdemeanors can include the following punishments:

  • $600 to $2,100 penalty
  • Imprisonment of up to one year
  • 90-day license suspension
  • Obligatory DUI school.

There are extra penalties for offenses involving someone below the legal drinking age in Alabama.

The Alabama DUI conviction of someone under 21 years old results in 90-day revocation or suspension of the driver’s license, 6 points added to their record, and a hefty fine.

Alaska: DUI vs. DWI

The State Code of Alaska and other government law documents in the past used the term DWI. DUI has since replaced it to cover both drunk driving terms.

In Alaska, like all 50 states, there is an implied consent law that makes it so that every driver automatically agrees to be tested for intoxication as mandated by the law.

In Alaska, that includes being subject to blood and breathalyzer tests.

The concept is that the implied consent occurred when the driver signed up for their license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

However, this agreement does not extend to pedestrians who are displaying signs of being intoxicated. Police and other authorities cannot force pedestrians to provide bodily samples for BAC testing.

DUI Laws Alaska

Although all states nationwide have implied consent laws in place to decrease DUI and DWI incidents with the intent to improve people’s safety on and off the road, they do not all classify refusing the testing with the same severity.

In ten states, including Alaska, you can get criminal penalties for refusing to be tested.

In contrast, all the states but Wyoming police can immediately enforce the administrative penalty of confiscating a driver’s license, which is temporary.

Alaska is one of the states that still have criminal provisions for drivers refusing to consent to a blood or breathalyzer test.

This means it can result in a criminal penalty if you are driving in Alaska and the police pull you over, and you are showing signs of intoxication, but upon their instruction to have a breathalyzer or a drug test, you refuse.

Since refusing sobriety testing is a crime in Alaska, it will result in the same criminal punishment as a DUI, the revocation of your driver’s license.

BAC limits in Alaska

When the blood alcohol content is 0.08% or higher, drivers are considered to be over the legal limit. If the BAC is 0.15% or higher, it is categorized as an aggravated DUI and may lead to harsher penalties.

Those under 21 years old are subject to a zero-tolerance policy, which makes it so that any alcohol in their system can result in a license suspension.

Alaska DUI Penalties

Being charged with a DUI in Alaska has serious consequences, starting with mandatory alcohol evaluation, instruction, and treatment.

Upon a first DUI conviction, a driver’s license will be suspended for 90 days, a second conviction for one year, and a third for three years.

Additionally, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device following the first conviction.

The interlock device enforces the requirement for people with a DUI conviction in Alaska to operate a vehicle only after passing a breathalyzer test with a 0.00% BAC.

Consent to breathalyzer test for DUI

A second DUI conviction may even lead to the confiscation of your car. You will also face jail time with a minimum of 3 days for the first conviction, 20 days for your second, and 60 for your third.

Financial penalties range for DUI from $1,500 for a first offense to $4,000 for the third in Alaska.

If you are facing Alaska DUI charges, we recommend you consider seeking counsel from an experienced Alaska DUI attorney to discuss your options.

Next up on the list is Arizona, the state with the strictest DUI laws.

Arizona: DUI vs. DWI

Arizona DUI and DWI laws are similar to those of other states, but there are some key differences to consider.

DUI is Criminal Charge in Arizona
In Arizona, DUI (driving under the influence) is a criminal offense, while DWI (driving while intoxicated) is a civil offense.

Both involve driving in with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher, but some nuances set each one apart.

In Arizona, DUI charges are often considered more severe than DWI charges and carry harsher penalties.

Someone can get charged with a DUI offense when they operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher and is impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Police often initially determine this through field sobriety tests or Breathalyzer tests. A DUI can also be charged if a driver has an alcohol concentration of .05 but is exhibiting signs of impairment.

DUI and DWI Arizona

DWI is Civil Offense in Arizona

A DWI charge in Arizona is typically used in cases where the BAC is between .05 and .079. In Arizona, it’s a less serious offense than a DUI, but it can still result in severe consequences, including:

  • Fines
  • License suspension
  • Even jail time.

Even if you are below the legal limit for alcohol consumption, you can still be arrested for driving while impaired in Arizona.

If you have any amount of drugs or alcohol in your system that impairs your ability to operate a vehicle safely, you may be charged with an impairment related to DUI or DWI.

Texas: DUI vs. DWI in Texas

Although many individuals in Texas may use the terms DWI (driving while intoxicated) and DUI (driving under the influence) interchangeably, that is a mistake.

In Texas, DUI and DWI are legal terms that are not the same and denote different criminal violations of Texas law.

We will dive into both DUI and DWI, going beyond their differences, as they are severe charges in Texas that should not be taken lightly.

Reminder: A DWI/DUI lawyer could make a big difference in your case’s outcome if you’re facing such charges.

Thus, the information presented here will aid in understanding the differences between DWI and DUI and the next steps you should take.

Texas DWI

In the Texas Penal Code (49.04), DWI is legally defined as operating a vehicle in public while being impaired by drugs, alcohol, or any other dangerous substance. A BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.08 or more would also signify intoxication.

Texas DUI Laws

Texas DUI

On the other hand, the definition of a DUI in Texas covers a broader spectrum of impaired driving for people under 21.

Even when a driver’s BAC is below 0.08, if they are underage and there is evidence of any amount of an intoxicating agent in their system, a DUI charge may be applicable.

For example, a minor is driving a car and is pulled over by police or state troopers for driving too fast.

If that driver who is under 21 has any level of alcohol in their system, it will be considered as driving under the influence in addition to speeding.

Arrested by police for drunk driving

Knowing the distinctions between these charges is critical in selecting the best defense strategy.

To put it into perspective, DUI is considered a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, whereas DWI is a more serious Class B misdemeanor.

Texas has Zero-Tolerance Laws for Minors

Instead of stricter DWI charges being able to apply to minors, like in some states, Texas has enacted Zero Tolerance DUI laws for minors to discourage underage drinking and driving. (In Texas, a “minor” is classified as someone under the age of 21.)

The repercussions for a Texas DUIA by a Minor could involve the following:

  • License suspension of up to 60 days
  • Mandatory alcohol awareness classes
  • Up to 40 hours of community service
  • A fine of $500.

Ultimately, Texas is the last state a minor should risk getting caught operating a vehicle from a punishment perspective.

Texas DWI Above 0.15% BAC is a Class A Misdemeanor.

As for DWI cases (over 21 years old) in which the BAC is 0.15% or above, they become Class A misdemeanors, which is the highest DWI misdemeanor you can get in Texas.

However, if someone has been hurt due to the DWI, the driver may face a second or third-degree felony. The repercussions include up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Depending on the circumstances, getting convicted of a DWI can result in significant punishments and being sentenced to serious time locked up behind bars in a Texas jail.

Texas Boating While Intoxicated (BWI Charge)

Although DWI includes operating boats in many states, that does not apply to boats, Sea-Doo, and other watercraft in Texas.

Texas BWI Law: Boating While Intoxicated

Instead, Texas BWI laws define the rules and punishments regarding alcohol and drug use while operating watercraft in Texas.

The Texas Penal Code (49.01) defines what a watercraft is:

“Watercraft” means a vessel, one or more water skis, an aquaplane, or another device used for transporting or carrying a person on water, other than a device propelled only by the current of water.

A BWI is a Class B Misdemeanor. The penalties for a BWI offense result in up to 180 days in prison and as much as a $2,000 fine.

DUI vs. DWI in Florida

As each state may have varying legal differences between DUI and DWI, the two “drunk driving acronyms,” Florida drivers must be aware of the differences in the event of an arrest.

Florida DUI and DWI laws

Florida DUI Laws

DUI is the official legal term in Florida that law enforcement and the court system will utilize if you are taken into custody for having alcohol in your system while driving.

Although Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is the correct legal phrase and acronym, people use DWI interchangeably in Florida to mean the same thing.

If you are over the legal drinking age, you may be found guilty of a DUI if you drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% or more.

Florida DUI Laws for Minors

However, the legal threshold for being intoxicated due to BAC is much lower in Florida if you are under 21. In Florida, DUI laws lower the legal threshold for people under 21 to .02%.

DWI, which stands for Driving While Intoxicated (or Impaired), is another way to say DUI in the State of Florida, although some states have different definitions for DWI.

Other states may consider DWI to mean the impairment of driving from the influence of prescription or recreational drugs or a high BAC.

Regarding DWI Florida laws, however, the standard of DWI and DUI is still .08% or higher for drivers over 21 and .02% for drivers under 21.

Florida DUI Severity Factors

Florida DUI laws give judges many different options they can use to issue harsher punishments for DUI convictions. The potential severity of the punishments can be further compounded by different factors, including:

Florida DUI Punishments

Penalties for a Florida DUI may include the following:

  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Jail time
  • DUI/DWI school
  • Community service
  • Car immobilization or impoundment
  • Revocation of your driver’s license.

DWI school for drunk driving punishment

Fines for the first DUI offense in Florida may be up to $500, with a minimum of $250.

Second and third offenses can have a maximum of $1,000 and $2,500, respectively.

The minimum fine for a second offense DUI is $500, and is a minimum fine of $1,000 for a third offense.

If a minor was your passenger, the amount you can be fined increases.

Probation for the first and second DUI conviction is a one-year term enforced by the court. If a driver is sentenced for the third time, the court can demand a longer period as a punishment.

Jail time can vary from six months for the first conviction, but up to nine months if you have a BAC of .20% or higher or have a minor in the car.

Should a fourth conviction be issued, the court can imprison the driver for a maximum of five years.

Frequently Asked Questions about DUI and DWI

DUI and DWI are serious offenses that can result in serious and future upending penalties.

That is why it is all the more essential to understand the law and the consequences of these offenses so that you can make informed decisions if you are ever charged with either charge.

This FAQ section will provide helpful answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about DUI and DWI and some tips on how to avoid them.

What does a DWI stand for?

DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated, which is a criminal offense in the United States.

It is a serious crime that can lead to serious legal consequences, including fines, jail time, and even license suspension or revocation.

DWI laws vary from state to state, and drivers need to understand the specific laws in their area before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

What does a DUI stand for?

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a criminal offense in which a person operates a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

It is a serious offense that can have severe legal and financial consequences, including jail time, fines, license suspension, and increased insurance premiums.

As a driver, you must understand what DUI stands for and the potential consequences of being charged with this offense.

What is the punishment for a DWI?

The punishment for a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) conviction will vary from state to state and also depends on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the charge.

In general, however, a DWI can carry a range of penalties, including fines, loss of driving privileges, probation, and possible jail time.

Additionally, many states also have administrative license suspensions, where the driver’s license is automatically suspended without any conviction or other finding of wrongdoing.

Furthermore, all DWI convictions carry a criminal record that can impact the driver’s job, career prospects, and financial aid opportunities.

Is driving while impaired a criminal offense?

Yes, driving while impaired is a criminal offense. It can lead to jail time, heavy fines, loss of license, and points against a driver’s license.

It can also cause physical injury and death if someone else is involved in the drunk driving accident.

At the very least, it is an expensive and embarrassing consequence to be convicted of driving while impaired (DWI).

Don't Drink and Drive sign

Is a DWI a felony?

Whether or not a DWI (driving while intoxicated) is considered a felony in the United States depends on various factors, including the state laws where the incident occurred.

Generally, the first and second convictions for DWI are treated as misdemeanors.

However, certain circumstances can result in a DWI being charged as a felony—such as driving with an extremely high blood alcohol content (BAC), causing serious injury or death to another person, or having multiple prior convictions for DWI.

How much does a DWI cost?

Driving while impaired (DWI) is a serious offense with severe consequences. The cost of a DWI can vary greatly depending on the circumstances and the state in which it occurs.

DWI Lawyer FAQs

Can a lawyer beat a DWI?

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charges can be serious and have severe consequences.

Therefore, it is vital to understand the legal options that are available to individuals facing such charges.

A defense attorney can be a powerful ally in navigating the complexities of a DWI case and potentially beating the charges.

By understanding the law, gathering evidence, and building a strong defense strategy, lawyers can help those accused of DWI to achieve positive outcomes.

How much does a DWI lawyer cost?

Typically, DWI lawyers do not have a set price they charge for all case types. That is not practical as DWI cases are complicated, and each client who needs a DWI defense finds them in a unique situation.

However, one way all DWI defense lawyers do charge is that they expect payment ahead of time and not after the case is tried.

This may include a flat upfront fee, additional bills for the DWI attorney charging hourly for their work, and the cost of case expenses like an expert witness to build the defense.

Generally, DWI clients can expect to pay at least $1,000 for even the most routine first-offense DWI cases.

The cost of a DWI lawyer can be well worth it, as the repercussions of not being prepared for your DWI trial can cost you significantly more for years to come if you are convicted.

Top Felony DWI FAQs by State:

You can read our list of the most searched on Google: “Is a DWI a Felony State List?”

Is DWI a felony in Missouri?

In Missouri, a first-offense DWI is generally a Class B Misdemeanor.

But you can be convicted of a felony if the prosecutor proves that you showed signs of impairment or had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher.

DUI Missouri

Is DWI a felony in NY?

A first-time DWI in New York is considered a misdemeanor, but your license can be revoked for a minimum of one year.

Second and third offenses will be considered felonies and can cause the revocation of your license for a minimum of 18 months.

New York DUI laws

Is DWI a felony in North Carolina?

DWI is a more severe felony for habitual DWI offenders in North Carolina. These are drivers who have been convicted four times within the past decade.

The Habitual DWI statute mandates a minimum active jail term of 12 months. You cannot get the jail term suspended in NC.

DWI laws in North Carolina

Is DWI a Felony in Oklahoma?

A DWI or DUI charge in Oklahoma can result in in a felony conviction for the driver accused of driving while impaired.

The potential severity of a felony DUI sentence changes based on whether the drunk driver was convicted or pleaded guilty to their first or second DUI conviction.

DUI Laws Oklahoma

For a First-Time DUI/DWI Felony Conviction in Oklahoma:

  • 1-5 years in jail
  • Fines up to $2,500
  • Their license can be revoked for one year (If the drunk driver’s license was revoked within the last decade).

For a Second-Time DUI/DWI Felony Conviction in Oklahoma:

  • 1-10 years in jail
  • Fines up to $5,000
  • Their license is automatically revoked for three or more years (If the drunk driver’s had already been revoked twice (or more) over the last decade).

Is DWI a felony in Texas?

Both first and second-offense DWIs are considered misdemeanor offenses in Texas and can carry up to one year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine, depending on the driver’s BAC levels.

A third or more DWI conviction is a felony offense. The punishment, fines, and consequences increase significantly.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

Helpful DUI and DWI Tips

What should you do if you are charged with DUI or DWI?

Being charged with a DWI or super extreme DUI can be a frightening experience. Understanding the legal process and potential consequences of these charges is essential.

Knowing what to do when facing DUI or DWI charges can help you make informed decisions and protect your Constitutional rights.

As always, we encourage anyone dealing with legal issues to consult with an experienced attorney about their case’s details.

So remember that a DUI or DWI attorney can be the crucial difference maker when you are the defendant facing drunk driving charges.

How will a DUI/DWI lawyer help you?

If you find yourself being charged with DUI, a DUI lawyer can provide you with the legal assistance you may need to guide you through the situation.

A DUI attorney’s job is to build a strong case in your defense to ensure that the results of the settlement go in your favor.

Summary of Differences Between DUI and DWI

  • DUI and DWI are two acronyms that are commonly and often mistakenly used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and implications.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while intoxicated have different penalties and punishments for each offense, and certain factors can make the court-enforced punishments harsher.
  • Texas has a Zero Tolerance Policy for Minors (under 21) who are driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA). DWI laws are only applicable to adults over 21 in Texas.

Pre-settlement Funding for Drinking and Driving Cases (DUI and DWI)

At Express Legal Funding, we understand that knowledge is power and is exponentially more impactful for legal topics.

With that as our goal, we hope you found this a valuable resource to learn more about the differences between DUI and DWI.

As always, we encourage anyone dealing with legal issues to consult with an experienced attorney about their case’s details.

So remember that a DUI or DWI attorney can be the crucial difference maker when you are the defendant facing drunk driving charges.

As a pre-settlement funding company, we can’t provide funding to defendants facing DWI or DUI charges.

Lawsuit Funding is for Plaintiffs With No Win Fee Lawyers

Our pre-settlement cash funding is a non-recourse advance to plaintiffs in civil lawsuits seeking financial compensation for harm caused to them by another party.

It’s not a loan, as the repayment of the funds is dependent on there being case proceeds when the case ends.

So we can provide lawsuit funding to victims of car accident cases that involve the at-fault party driving under the influence of alcohol or while intoxicated.

In fact, these cases make for some of the stronger and more provable car wreck case types when the driver is tested over the legal limit.

It demonstrates negligent behavior that led to the accident occurring. DWI cases with high commercial policy limits often make it so we can fund higher dollar amounts to plaintiffs.

(Please note for Missouri residents and consumers, a crucial difference for claimants in the state of Missouri in contrast to the many other states, Express Legal Funding serves is the financial help we can provide to claimants in Missouri is a loan product and, therefore, not risk-free.

Pre-settlement loans in the state of Missouri are loans and must, technically by law, be repaid regardless of case outcome. Express Legal Funding-Missouri, LLC is licensed to give these loans in MO.)

If you have hired a no-win, no-fee lawyer and are seeking a settlement or trial award for a personal injury case, you can call us or apply online anytime for pre-settlement funding. We are here to help!

About the Author

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Strategy Director at Express Legal Funding | Author Website

Aaron Winston is the Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding. As "The Legal Funding Expert," Aaron has more than ten years of experience in the consumer finance industry. Most of which was as a consultant to a top financial advisory firm, managing 400+ million USD in client wealth. He is recognized as an expert author and researcher across multiple SEO industries.
Aaron Winston earned his title "The Legal Funding Expert" through authoritative articles and blog posts about legal funding. He specializes in expert content writing for pre-settlement funding and law firm blogs.
Each month, tens of thousands of web visitors read his articles and posts. Aaron's thoroughly researched guides are among the most-read lawsuit funding articles over the past year.
As Strategy Director of Express Legal Funding, Aaron has devoted thousands of hours to advocating for the consumer. His "it factor" is that he is a tireless and inventive thought leader who has made great strides by conveying his legal knowledge and diverse expertise to the public. More clients and lawyers understand the facts about pre-settlement funding because of Aaron's legal and financial service SEO mastery.
Aaron Winston is the author of A Word For The Wise. A Warning For The Stupid. Canons of Conduct, which is a book in poetry format. It consists of 35 unique canons. The book was published in 2023.
He keeps an academic approach to business that improves the consumer's well-being. In early 2022, Aaron gained the Search Engine Optimization and the Google Ads LinkedIn skills assessment badges. He placed in the top 5% of those who took the SEO skills test assessment.
Aaron's company slogans and lawsuit funding company name are registered trademarks of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He has gained positive notoriety via interviews and case studies, which are a byproduct of his successes. Aaron R. Winston was featured in a smith.ai interview (2021) and a company growth case study (2022).
In 2023, Aaron and Express Legal Funding received accolades in a leading SEO author case study performed by the leading professionals at WordLift. The in-depth data presented in the pre-settlement funding SEO case study demonstrate why Aaron Winston maintains a high-author E-E-A-T. His original writing and helpful content continue to achieve unprecedented success and stand in their own class.

Aaron was born in Lubbock, TX, where he spent the first eight years of his life. Aaron attended Akiba Academy of Dallas, TX.

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Victoria Brown: Marketing Specialist at Law Offices of Brian D Sloan

Victoria Brown

Marketing and Communications Specialist at Law Offices of Brian D. Sloan | Author Website

Victoria Brown is an experienced Marketing and Communications Specialist at the Law Offices of Brian D. Sloan, a top DUI law firm in Phoenix, Arizona.

Victoria's expertise and research ability as an author in spreading awareness of DUI laws have helped her contribute to DUI defense attorney Brian Sloan's legal marketing efforts. Mr. Brian Sloan has been licensed to practice law and has been defending Arizona DUI cases since 2004.

In addition to Victoria Brown's ever-increasing knowledge about drunk driving and its legal implications, she is the first guest author to create a premier educational resource for the Express Legal Funding website.

Victoria is proud to be a part of a leading DUI law firm in Arizona and is helping to lead the way among the best DUI defense attorneys and their top-rated law firms.

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