What's the Difference Between a DWI and DUI?

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Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) are both serious misdemeanors. Even if it’s your first offense, you’ll face strict penalties that could include jail time. However, legal trouble isn’t the only consequence you’ll face for drunk driving. There are various financial implications, too. A DUI, for example, can set you back an average of $10,000 in fines, attorney’s fees, court costs, and more. 

One of the greatest financial consequences of drinking while impaired is that it can increase your insurance rates. Some insurance companies may even refuse coverage after you receive a DUI or a DWI violation. 

But what’s the difference between a DUI and a DWI? Are they interchangeable terms for the same illegal offense, or are they two different things? Here, you’ll discover how DUIs and DWIs differ and how each one affects your car insurance. 

What Is a DUI?

DUI stands for driving under the influence. It’s typically considered under the influence of alcohol, though some states, such as Washington and Kentucky, also include drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) in this category. 

When you drink, the alcohol passes into your bloodstream, and how it impacts you can vary based on physiology, such as weight and sex, and individual alcohol tolerance. The amount of alcohol in your system is measurable through your blood, urine, or breath, and it’s measured in terms of grams of alcohol in a specific volume of blood or breath. Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can help determine if you are intoxicated.  

As penalties vary from state to state, your location matters when it comes to DUI charges. See what the laws are like where you live to fully understand the consequences of a DUI. 

Across the U.S., it’s illegal to drive when your BAC is above .08%. However, states can choose to lower this level. For instance, in Utah, it’s only .05%. 

In some states, such as South Dakota, you don’t even have to be driving for a DUI charge. In this state, if you are sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition while intoxicated, you may be charged with a DUI. 

If you’re caught driving under the influence while on federal property, such as a military base, an airport, or a national park, that can be considered a federal crime and a Class B misdemeanor. A Class B misdemeanor can lead to a fine of up to $5,000, up to six months in federal prison, and up to five years of federal probation.

What Is a DWI?

The acronym DWI has two different definitions, depending on where you live. It can stand for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired. This can refer to drunk driving or driving while impaired by any substance, including drugs. 

In Missouri, for example, DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.” In Arkansas, the state divides DWIs up into two separate offenses: one specific to alcohol, and the other specific to drugs. This state also has specific laws related to DWIs in a commercial vehicle, resulting in the loss of your commercial driver’s license (CDL), if applicable.

DWI and DUI aren’t the only acronyms that refer to drunk or drugged driving. Iowa uses OWI, for instance, which stands for operating while intoxicated. That same acronym in Alaska stands for operating while under the influence. And in Oregon, you can be charged with a DUII, or driving under the influence of intoxicants.

DWI vs. DUI

Whether you get a DWI or a DUI, you’ll need to report the charge to your insurance company. Because both are the result of risky behavior, either charge will impact your rates and insurability, no matter which acronym your state uses.  

In some states, though, one of these crimes is less severe than the other. This will vary from state to state. For instance in Maryland, a DUI is a more severe offense than a DWI because the level of impairment is greater with a DUI charge. If you’re charged with a first-offense DUI in this state, you face up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. If you're charged with a DWI, though, you face a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of two months of jail time, if it’s your first offense.

Colorado also treats the first-offense DWI as less severe than a first-offense DUI. But once you’re convicted of either a second time, the penalties are the same. 

As far as your insurance company is concerned, it may consider you a high-risk driver once you get a DUI or a DWI. 

Finding Insurance after a DWI or DUI

Typically, you need to call your insurance company and ask it to file an SR-22 form (or FR-44 in Virginia and Florida) with your state department if you were convicted of driving while intoxicated. This usually results in a car insurance surcharge. The state you live in or the court may also mandate an SR-22. If you don’t abide by the terms, you can have your license suspended. 

Your insurer may offer SR-22 form filings for free as part of your policy. Otherwise, it costs about $25 to file. You’ll probably need an SR-22 proving continuous coverage for about three years or more, depending on your state.

Insurers will also add an SR-22 endorsement to your current policy. You also may need to file an SR-22 if you don’t own a car but drive. In that case, you’ll want to get a “Named Non-Owner Coverage Endorsement” with an SR-22, according to Progressive, which will cover you under your state’s liability requirements any time you drive a car. 

SR-22 is not insurance. It’s simply a form proving that your insurance policy meets your state’s minimum auto insurance liability requirements. 

Not all insurers offer SR-22s, and because you are considered high-risk, your insurance company may decide not to renew your policy once you have a DUI or DWI offense. If your company does allow you to stay with it, it’s not uncommon for your rates to increase 100% or more for a DUI.

Whether you’re looking for a new car insurance policy or hoping to negotiate better rates with your current company after an impaired-driving conviction, here are a few tips that can help you get the best rates. 

  • Always be honest: Once convicted, it’s important to be transparent with your insurance company. Let them know about your DWI or DUI and your need for an SR-22 to save you time and get an accurate quote. 
  • Shop around: Rates for high-risk drivers vary significantly between companies, so always take time to price-check and compare policies
  • Take an elective defensive driving course: Some insurance companies offer a discount between 5% and 15% for people who take a special driving course. 
  • Bundle your policy: If you have other insurance needs, you might be able to lower your premiums if you bundle them, putting your auto and home policies with the same insurer. Allstate, for example, lets you save up to 25% in premiums if you bundle your insurance.   

The Bottom Line

No matter what your state calls it, drunk or drugged driving has serious consequences. Not only do you face legal penalties for a DWI and a DUI conviction, but insurers may classify you as a high-risk driver—a designation that’s sure to impact your car insurance rates. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What’s the difference between a DWI and a DUI in Virginia?

If you’re drinking and driving in Virginia, you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) even if your BAC isn’t 0.8%. The terms DWI and DUI are often used interchangeably here. 

What’s the difference between a DWI and a DUI in Texas?

In Texas, you can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) if you are driving while drinking or under the influence of drugs. DUI and DWI are both used in the state, but the official charge is DWI. 

What’s the difference between a DWI and a DUI in New York?

New York does not use the charge DUI. But you could get hit with either a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) or a DWI (driving while intoxicated.) A DWAI is the lesser offense. The DWI charge requires a BAC of at least .08%, which is a higher level of impairment. 

What’s the difference between a DWI and a DUI in California?

If you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California, you can be charged with a DUI. You must actually be driving the car in this state, which means you won’t get charged if you’re sitting in the driver’s seat but not moving the vehicle.