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The Difference Between DUI and DWI

DUI vs. DWI | Is There a Difference? | Just Believe Recovery
In This Article

In many states, a DUI (driving under the influence) and a DWI (driving while intoxicated) are used interchangeably. In other states, however, a DUI and a DWI are different offenses.

It may be a little confusing when a state uses both terms. Often, one refers to the use of alcohol and the other to impairment by drugs, which can also vary from state to state. Also, in some states, DWI refers to driving while under the influence of alcohol with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) over the legal limit. Meanwhile, the term DUI may be used to charge a driver with being under the influence of either alcohol or drugs.


In some states, an intoxicated driver can also be charged with an OWI (operating while intoxicated) or an OUI (operating a vehicle under the influence). Regardless, being charged with any of these offenses can have severe consequences.

At the time of this writing, these acronyms are only used in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The “operating” distinction comprises more than just driving a vehicle. Even if the vehicle is stopped and the motor isn’t running, a person can be arrested and charged with operating under the influence.

When Charges Can Occur

A police officer should only pull a person over when he/she has probable cause to suspect that the driver may be under the influence of a substance. Examples include violating a traffic rule, swerving, or driving dangerously. Once a person has been pulled over, the officer will determine if they are intoxicated and to what extent.

The driver will likely be asked to perform a field sobriety test. These are often relatively simple tasks, like standing on one leg while counting or walking in a straight line and then turning around. An officer might also ask a driver to follow a light with their eyes.

Whether or not a person passes the field sobriety test, he or she will probably be asked to use a breathalyzer. A breathalyzer is a tool that is used to determine a person’s approximate BAC. Refusing to take this test can result in additional penalties, including fines and license suspension.

Importantly, a person can still be charged and convicted of driving while impaired without taking a breathalyzer test. If he or she fails the field sobriety test or have an accident, these are examples of situations that could still land a person in jail. Moreover, refusing to use a breathalyzer might not be a good idea, since, in many cases, it would only result in more problems.

Suppose the field tests or breathalyzer indicate that a driver is intoxicated (the U.S. legal limit is BAC of 0.08%). In that case, the vehicle will likely be searched for open alcohol or drugs. The person will then be arrested and charged, and the vehicle will be towed to an impound location.

After Arrest

DUI vs. DWI | Is There a Difference? | Just Believe Recovery

After law enforcement arrest a driver at the scene, he or she will probably be booked at a local station. This process typically involves being photographed and fingerprinted, followed by short-term incarceration in a jail cell.

A person might also be asked to undergo a blood or urine test. Like breathalyzers, in some states, there are penalties for refusing to take these other tests. The police will also ask questions, but, as with any arrest, you have the right not to answer and to speak to a lawyer.

After being booked, many people can be released on bail if they can post it. At this point, it’s best to retain an attorney if one has not been already. Next is the process of arraignment, where the person pleads either guilty or not guilty. Sometimes it can take weeks or months to get to this part, depending on whether a plea deal has been agreed upon and some other factors.

In any case, a guilty plea is swiflly followed by sentencing from a judge. If this is a plea deal, a defendant will have a good idea of the outcome most of the time. If the plea is not guilty, the case will go to trial in front of a judge or jury to determine the verdict.

Sentences vary widely depending on the severity of the circumstances and a person’s criminal record. For example, a second DUI would warrant a stiffer sentence than the first. Conditions of sentencing may include jail time, probation, and community service. The person may also be required to undergo therapy or counseling, random or routine breathalyzer tests, and substance abuse education.

Treatment for Alcoholism

If you have been charged with a drunk driving offense, you may be required by law to seek substance abuse treatment. Even if you are not required, there is a reasonable chance that drinking has become problematic, and you could benefit from professional help for alcoholism.

Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer comprehensive, evidence-based services including psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.

We Believe Recovery Is Possible For Everyone.
If you or a loved one need help with substance abuse, please contact Just Believe Recovery at (888) 380-0667. Our specialists can assess your individual needs and help you get the treatment that provides the best chance for long-term recovery.
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