We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Is There a Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Historical Index is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Historical Index, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Both DUI and DWI are terms that refer to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by illegal drugs or alcohol. The biggest difference between the two is only in what the letters stand for. DWI is an acronym for driving while intoxicated or impaired and DUI stands for driving under the influence. Throughout the United States, the laws vary regarding how these charges are dealt with.

In some places, including some US states, the drunk driving laws differentiate between a DUI and a DWI. In these states, a DUI usually signifies a lesser degree of intoxication, which is determined by a person’s blood alcohol level at the time of arrest. Sometimes, states will allow the charges of a DWI to be reduced with the help of a defense attorney.

In the case of a reduction from one charge to the other, certain conditions typically must be met, such as the incident being a first offense, the defendant’s display of remorse for the action, and a blood alcohol level that was not drastically over the legal limit. For example, New York State differentiates between the two by establishing a blood alcohol level of 0.08 as the legal limit for DWI. If a person has a blood alcohol level of 0.07, the charges may be reduced to a DUI, which carries a lesser punishment.

Some states in the US have developed a zero tolerance policy, and consequently, they do not recognize any difference between these charges. As far as the laws of these states are concerned, any blood alcohol level over the specified limit is a crime that will be punished in the same manner. In some states, the terms DUI and DWI are used to indicate whether a person was driving impaired under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In this case, DUI is reserved for illegal drugs.

The United States has, as a nation, cracked down on driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol regardless of how particular states discriminate between the charges. Every state has a minimum illegal blood alcohol level of 0.08. Laws concerning driving while impaired are constantly changing, and the instance of any particular state making the differentiation between the two other than in the actual wording is quickly diminishing. Many see these terms as merely a preferential way to describe the same crime. In fact, other terms beside these two are also employed, such as OUI and OWI, replacing the D for driving with an O for operating.

In countries outside of the United States, DUI laws are also enforced. Most European countries have a higher tolerance regarding what is considered illegal, but these countries also tend to have a lower incidence of people driving while impaired for many reasons, some of which include widespread social norms, attitudes against DUI, and an older age at which people are allowed to receive their driver’s license.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon268785 — On May 15, 2012

Does the state of North Carolina recognize DUI's outside the United States?

By anon243062 — On Jan 26, 2012

No, actually here in Europe, the BAC limit tends to be .05, while in most states in America, it's .08.

By thestats — On Aug 10, 2011

in some cases, a lawyer can definitely help in decreasing a dwi to dui charge.

By averagejoe — On May 25, 2010

Stare31 -- It depends. Both DWIs and DUIs can be felonies or misdemeanors. It just depends on the state and its laws, and it often depends on the number of DUIs or DWIs the person has had in the past, and whether its associated with an accident, injury or death.

In California, for example, first, second and third offenses are usually misdemeanors. But if there was injury to property, a person, or a death associated with the DUI/DWI, it'll probably be a felony, even if it's a first time offense. Fourth plus offenses are usually felonies too even if there was no damage to a person or property.

By stare31 — On May 25, 2010

In states that do distinguish between DUIs and DWIs, are they misdemeanors or felonies?

By dudla — On May 25, 2010

I do think that whether a cop busts you for a DUI or DWI is much more likely if you're clearly under the influence of an illegal or recreational substance. (Not that it should affect their decision. In fact, I don't know that they should have any discretion. If you find someone swerving they should get busted. Period.)

By anon131 — On Apr 16, 2007

"impaired by illegal drugs or alcohol."

In most states it doesn't matter if the drug is illegal or legal. Just because you have a prescription for percoset doesn't mean anything to the cop scraping you up.

Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.