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The difference between DUI, DWI, OUI and OWI


Drunk driving commonly referred to as “Driving Under the Influence” or DUI is a term used to describe impaired driving or driving while under the influence of drugs or any other controlled chemical substance. Multiple terms are used to describe this offense, like DUI, DWI, OUI and OWI which all mean the same thing. Although different states use different terminology, the reference in which the terms are used is the same. Here is an explanation to differentiate between the different drunk driving charges:

DUI – “Driving Under the Influence” is a drunk driving charge which refers to anyone who drinks and drives or drives while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating beverage, chemical substance or drug. This is the most common term used in the states, although states like Maine, Massachusetts use other terms instead of DUI.

DWI – DWI stands for “Driving While Intoxicated” or “Driving While Impaired” and also refers to drunk driving. States like Alaska used to use this term to refer to drunk driving a few years back, but changed to DUI.

OUI – The term OUI is an abbreviation for “Operating Under the Influence” and is commonly used in the state of Massachusetts for drunk driving. It also refers to “Operating under the influence of Intoxicating Liquor” under the Massachusetts General Laws. The state of Maine also uses this term to refer to drunk driving.

OWI – This term is an abbreviation for “Operating While Intoxicated”, “Operating While Impaired” and also for “Operating a motor vehicle While Under the Influence” and all refer to drunk driving.

Some people use these terms interchangeably, but they all refer to the same thing. In all states, a DUI/DWI/OUI/OWI offense is charged as a misdemeanour and not a felony offense. A Felony DUI is separate from a DUI, and has harsher penalties and charges. Usually in the case if a bodily injury or death is involved, the case is treated as Felony DUI. In other cases, even if no bodily injury or death occurred, but the driver was found with a very high level of BAC (Blood Alcohol Level) at the time of arrest, the person is charged with Felony DUI.


Although the terms DWI and DUI refer to the same thing in most states, some states differentiate between the two terms. These states consider DUI as a lesser charge, whereas DWI is considered a more serious offense. The level of alcohol in the blood actually defines if the person is to be charged with DWI or DUI. In these states, the offender can get help from a DWI defense attorney to have the charges reduced to a DUI, or have them cleared altogether.

However, in such a case, certain conditions have to be met for the court to agree to the reduction, such as the offender should not have a prior DUI conviction on his/her record. Secondly, if the Blood Alcohol Limit at the time of arrest was very high, then the defendant does not qualify for a reduction from a DWI to a DUI. Ideally, BAC should be below 0.08% for the person to be eligible for a reduction in charges. Lastly, the defendant needs to display some remorse for his actions for the court to consider his/her appeal.

As mentioned already, only a few states differentiate between DUI and DWI, while others do not. The states which do not differentiate between the two terms follow a zero tolerance policy for BAC levels higher than those defined under the law of that state as legal, and hence will punish the offender. This minimum illegal blood alcohol level limit is set to 0.08% in most states and 0.04% for commercial drivers. The legal allowed limit may change over time, but the laws for an offense will still be the same, or harsher over the years.

Some states also differentiate DUI and DWI based on the drug or substance which was used by the driver, which lead to impairment or intoxication. In these states, the term DUI is usually reserved for offenders who are under the influence of illegal drugs.
Whether you are charged with a DWI, DUI, OWI or OUI, you need to get professional legal assistance right away. Hire a DUI attorney to defend you in court, so the charges and penalties against you are reduced considerably.

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4 responses to “The difference between DUI, DWI, OUI and OWI”

  1. ressfulpafe says:

    so informative, thanks to tell us.

  2. drunk driving says:

    So there’s not rally a big difference between DUI,DWI,OUI or a OWI they all kind of mean the same thing.

  3. California DUI says:

    That is correct, drunk driving is drunk driving no matter how you look at it. Some states just feel the need to call it something different.

  4. California DUI says:

    Thanks for defining all the important terms related to drink driving and related criminal laws.

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