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 What is Drunk Driving or Driving While Intoxicated?

Drunk driving or driving while intoxicated occurs when an individual has more alcohol or drugs in their system than their state’s law permits. An individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is the most common measurement of the concentration of alcohol in an individual’s body.

In all 50 states in the United States, except for Arizona, the legal BAC limit for adults who are over the age of 21 is 0.08%. In Arizona, an individual may be charged and convicted of driving under the influence if they have any level of alcohol in the system or if they are impaired to the slightest degree.

What do DUI-DWI-OUI-OWI Stand For?

Each state law varies regarding the handling of an individual who is arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances which may impair a driver. As a result of these varying laws, different acronyms have been used by each state to classify the charge of driving under the influence.

What are The Different Acronyms Used By The States?

  • DUI, or Driving Under the Influence:
    • This acronym is the most commonly used. It refers primarily to alcohol, but may include the use of drugs or other impairing substances;
  • DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated or Driving While Impaired:
    • This is another commonly used acronym that, in most states, is the same as driving under the influence;
  • OUI, or Operating Under the Influence:
    • While DUI/DWI are the most commonly used acronyms for drunk driving, the majority of states are referring to operating a vehicle under the influence when using those terms. Operating is a broader term than driving because an individual can be in a parked vehicle and may be considered to be operating that vehicle if the engine is running. A small group of states, including Massachusetts, employ OUI rather than DUI;
  • OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated:
    • This is primarily used in states such as Iowa and Wisconsin. Operating while intoxicated is just another variation of the other terms listed previously;
  • OMVI, or Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated:
    • This acronym is used in Ohio case and state law. It is another variation of the previous terms;
  • DUIL, or Driving Under the Influence of Liquor:
    • This acronym is narrowly applied. It refers specifically to the influence of alcohol. It does not appear as frequently as the previous acronyms;
  • DUII, or Driving Under the Influence of an Intoxicant:
    • Like a DUIL, this acronym does not appear as frequently as the others, however, it may show up from time to time;
  • DWAI, or Driving While Ability Impaired:
    • This acronym appears in Colorado and New York case and statutory law. It is a lesser charge than a DUI or DWI. In New York, for example, an individual may receive a DWAI for a BAC between .05 and .07 percent, whereas, a BAC of .08% or higher will result in a DUI or DWI charge;
  • DWUI, or Driving While Under the Influence:
    • This is similar to the first five terms listed above. It may appear in Wyoming case or statutory law.

What are Per Se DUI/DWI Laws?

Per se driving while intoxicated laws provide that if an individual has a BAC that is at or above 0.08%, then that individual is considered to be legally intoxicated. In other words, if an individual drives with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, they may be convicted of DUI/DWI.

These levels are different for under age drivers and for individuals who operate commercial vehicles. If a driver is under the age of 21, there is a zero tolerance policy. This means that an under age driver cannot drive with any level of alcohol in their bloodstream.

If an individual is operating a commercial vehicle, they are held to a higher legal standard than other drivers. These drivers may be charged with a criminal offense if their BAC is 0.04% or higher. This standard also applies to individuals who operate vehicles for ride-share companies including Uber and Lyft.

Are There Differing Penalties for the Different Drunk Driving Acronyms?

In some cases, yes, there are different penalties for different drunk driving acronyms. These acronyms are used as more of a convention to describe or classify the general offense of driving under the influence.

This is true, with the exception of DWAI, which has different penalty classifications in Colorado and New York. Otherwise, the acronyms listed above will have the penalties associated with them that apply in the laws of that state for driving under the influence.

Can I be Arrested for a DUI if my BAC is Lower than the Per Se Intoxication Limit?

Yes, an individual may be arrested for a DUI if their BAC was lower than the per se intoxication limit. Even if an individual’s BAC was below the legal limit, if they were driving while impaired, they may still face legal charges.

Law enforcement may be able to articulate other evidence of driving while impaired, such as:

  • Visible weaving;
  • Slurred speech;
  • An odor of alcohol; and
  • Failing field sobriety testing.

If an individual is arrested for DUI/DWI and their BAC is below the legal limit, it is important that they contact a criminal defense attorney. A DUI conviction can be very expensive and may affect an individual’s life in a number of ways, including:

  • Higher insurance premiums;
  • Being excluded from education opportunities; and
  • The loss of professional licenses.

What Factors are Considered with a Court Sentences and Individual for a DUI/DWI?

The penalties for a DUI/DWI conviction vary by state. However, many include:

  • Driver’s license suspension or revocation;
  • Criminal fines;
  • Jail or prison sentences;
  • Home confinement;
  • The installation of an ignition interlock device; and
  • Community service.

When sentencing a defendant for a DUI/DWI, the court will typically consider:

  • The individual’s prior conviction history;
  • Whether injury or death occurred as a result of the DUI/DWI;
  • Whether there was property damage;
  • Whether the individual was driving a commercial vehicle;
  • Whether the individual was under the age of 21 at the time of their arrest; and
  • Whether there was a minor present in the vehicle.

Is it Possible to Reach a DUI/DWI Plea Bargain?

Yes, in some cases, it may be possible for a defendant to receive a plea bargain in a DUI/DWI case. A plea bargain allows the defendant to avoid the cost of going to trial, usually in exchange for being convicted of a lesser offense.

For example, the defendant may be able to plead to a lesser driving offense. In exchange, they agree to complete an alcohol diversion program, pay criminal fines, or perform community service.

An experienced attorney is often able to negotiate with the prosecution in order to obtain a more favorable outcome for their client. If an individual’s BAC was near the legal limit, but not over, a reduced charge will help them avoid the consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction discussed above.

Do I Need A Drunk Driving Attorney?

It is essential to have an experienced DUI /DWI lawyer on your side if you are charged with a drunk driving offense. There are many attorneys who specialize in driving under the influence charges, whether they are OWI charges in Wisconsin, OMVI charges in Ohio, or DWUI charges in Wyoming.

It is important to have the help of an attorney because driving under the influence charges are very serious and may affect more than just your criminal record. Your attorney can review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you each time you must appear in court.


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