A client recently asked me what difference was between a DUI and a DWI. It’s a simple question, but one worth asking nonetheless. Both refer to the crime of driving a vehicle while impaired either by drugs or alcohol or both. The main difference is in what each acronym means.
DUI stands for “driving under the influence.” DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated.” While some states actually differentiate between the two charges, California does not and generally uses the term DUI to encompass both. When someone uses either DUI or DWI in California they are referring to the same offense, California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) driving under the influence and 23152(b) driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or above. Regardless of which term is used, each will be treated and punished the exact same.
In states that do differentiate between the two, DWI is generally considered a more serious offense, while a DUI is considered a lesser offense. Those states generally use the DWI offense where the BAC is 0.08 percent or above and DUI is used when the defendant has alcohol in their blood but it is less than 0.08 percent. Some of those states will allow a DWI offense to be reduced to a DUI offense.
Some states such as Minnesota only use the term DWI.
So whether you’re in California, Minnesota, or one of those weirdo states that refers to it as OWI aka “Operating While Under the Influence” (yeah, you Iowa), don’t get popped with any of these acronyms because none of them are good.