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One of the most common questions I receive as a DUI attorney is “What’s the difference between DUI and DWI?”  Generally, many people use these terms as an interchangeable substitute for one another – both referring to an arrest relating to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  But if you really want to get technical, there are some slight differences as to what each “slang” term refers to.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) generally refers to the act of driving a vehicle while under the influence of some foreign drug or substance to a point where you are physically or mentally impaired.   Well this begs the question as to what “impaired” is defined as, and how law enforcement is able to get to that conclusion.

The meaning of being impaired has been filtered out through numerous court cases that have created precedent for the entire state to follow.  Within these cases, the court has clearly ruled that being impaired means that you are unable to operate a vehicle with the same care and control of a completely sober person under the same conditions.  Obviously a very subjective standard, and it’s important to remember that field sobriety tests never include the old “well lets get in the car and see how your really driving” test.   The decision as to whether you’re impaired is based upon the officer’s opinion of your test performance, which can change drastically from officer to officer.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) deals more specifically with whether your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is over 0.08%.  In this type of charge, the court is only concerned with the results of your blood or chemical test, and whether you BAC is over the legal limit.  The legislature in California has created this law based upon .08% being an alleged universal threshold ALL people are impaired to drive a vehicle.  In order for the legislature to create this law, they had to pick a number – in this instance its 0.08%.  No, it does not mean that alcohol affects every person equally.  No, it does not mean you really are too impaired to safely operate a vehicle.  No, it does not mean that you’re drunk.  What it does mean, however, is that the when charging you with DUI as opposed to DWI, you could be driving like Speed Racer himself out there, but if your over 0.08% then your at risk.

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