DUI vs. DWI vs. OUI: Is There a Difference?

Every state has its own impaired driving laws, criminal penalties, and administrative procedures, whether it's called DUI, DWI, OUI, or some other acronym. The term DUI (driving under the influence) is often used to describe drunk driving laws in general, regardless of these differences, since it is the most common among state laws .

For example, if you're pulled over by the police in Maryland after having a few too many beers at the Nationals game, and the officer has probable cause to arrest you, you may be charged with either DUI or DWI (driving while impaired), or both. DUI (vs. DWI) is the more serious charge, while the lesser charge is for those with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between .07 and .079 percent who show visible signs of impairment. But even if both DUI and DWI charges are filed, you can only be convicted of one or the other in a Maryland court.

If you or a loved one is involved in an impaired driving case, whether it's for alcohol or other substances (marijuana, prescription medications, etc.), you will want to understand what these acronyms mean in your particular state.

DUI vs. DWI vs. OUI: What do they all mean?

The acronyms DUI and DWI are the most commonly used terms for a drunk driving charge in the United States, but certainly not the only ones. Also, these terms have specific meanings within the penal code of each respective state, so arbitrarily throwing around this terminology doesn't help when discussing a particular jurisdiction. In fact, many states have more than one type of impaired driving charge, each with its own acronym.

More than half of the states (including the District of Columbia) use DUI to identify the standard charge for driving under the influence, while 10 states use the term DWI (either driving while impaired or driving while intoxicated). Other terms used for standard impaired driving charges -- typically for a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher -- include the following:

  • OUI - Operating under the influence (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts)
  • DWAI - Driving while ability impaired (Colorado, New York)
  • OVUII - Operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (Hawaii)
  • OWI - Operating while intoxicated (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin)
  • OVI - Operating a vehicle under the influence (Ohio)
  • DUII - Driving under the influence of intoxicants (Oregon)

Terms Used for Special Impaired Driving Charges

Most states have aggravated or alternative DUI charges for non-standard violations, such as repeat offenses, a particularly high BAC, underage DUI, the presence of children in the vehicle, driving under the influence of illicit drugs, and other special circumstances. Some states even have multiple terms pertaining to these different types of impaired driving charges, including the following:

  • DUI (Arkansas) - Driving under the influence is specific to those who are under the legal drinking age of 21, while DWI is for impaired drivers who are 21 and older.
  • DWI (Maryland) - The charge of driving while impaired is specific to underage drivers (21 and under), while DUI is for drivers who are 21 and older.
  • OWVI (Michigan) - Operating while visibly impaired; charged if the officer visibly witnessed evidence that the driver was impaired by alcohol or other drugs, independent of any chemical test results.
  • OWPD (Michigan) - Operating with any presence of a Schedule 1 drug or cocaine; even a small trace of an illicit drug is considered "per se" impairment, regardless of other evidence to the contrary.
  • DUID (Missouri) - Driving under the influence of drugs; charged when the driver is in an "intoxicated or drugged condition." It is not a strict per se standard (as in Michigan) but determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • DWAI (New York) - Driving while ability impaired; this is a lesser charge, applicable when the driver's BAC is between 0.05 and 0.07 percent.
  • DUAC (South Carolina) - Driving with unlawful alcohol concentration; this lesser charge is a moving violation and not a criminal offense, even though it is triggered by having a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher (absent any visible signs of impairment).

Whether You Call it a DUI, DWI, OUI, or Something Else, An Attorney Can Help

Regardless of how your state refers to impaired driving charges, and whether it has different types of charges for various offenses within that category, convictions for these types of crimes can have a profound effect on your life. Assert your right to a legal defense by considering the assistance of a DUI attorney in your area.

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