DUI vs. DWI: What’s the Difference?

Why You Can Trust Compare.com trust shield

At Compare.com, it’s our mission to find simple ways to help our customers save money on the things they need. While we partner with some of the companies and brands we talk about in our articles, all of our content is written and reviewed by our independent editorial team and never influenced by our partnerships. Learn about how we make money, review our editorial standards, and reference our data methodology to learn more about why you can trust Compare.com.

Police officer pulling someone over for a suspected DUI or DWI

If the police catch you driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you’ll likely receive a DUI or DWI. Definitions and laws vary by state, but if convicted, you could face severe penalties, including jail time, fines, and license suspension. Plus, you’ll likely see a substantial hike in your insurance rates — so finding cheap car insurance might be difficult.

This article explains the differences between the terms, what happens if you get one, and alcohol-impaired laws by state.

Avoid a Rate Hike By Shopping Around

Key Takeaways:

  • The difference between a DUI and a DWI depends on the state — some use one term or the other, and several use both.
  • Most states will suspend your license for at least 90 days after a DUI or DWI conviction.
  • A DUI or DWI conviction leads to a 94% increase in average car insurance rates, according to our research.

DUI vs. DWI: Key Differences

Man drinking a beer holding his car keys

The term DUI stands for driving under the influence. DWI stands for driving while impaired or intoxicated. If you’re pulled over or in an accident and a law enforcement officer suspects you to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may have to submit to a breathalyzer or field sobriety test. Failure to do so typically results in a trip to the police station.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between DUI and DWI and how authorities penalize each.

Intoxicated vs. impaired

Each state handles a DUI and DWI differently, which can make things confusing. A DUI charge is often the more serious of the two, though some states only recognize one term or use them interchangeably.

Nine states have charges for both terms, with each having its own factors and punishments coming into play. Most states use either your age or BAC to determine which offense you’re charged with.

In some cases, the state may charge you with DWI even if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is below 0.08% but you show other signs of impairment.

DUI or DWI: Which is worse?

Like the use of the terms themselves, the ways authorities punish drivers who are guilty of DUIs or DWIs vary by state. That said, in states that use both terms, a DWI is typically a more serious charge than a DUI.

For example, Arizona and Minnesota typically charge drivers with a DUI if they appear impaired but have a BAC lower than 0.08%. Any driver with a BAC over the legal limit faces a DWI charge. But that’s not the case everywhere — Oklahoma uses DUI for drivers at or above 0.08%, but DWI if it’s 0.06% or 0.07%.

Other Impaired Driving Acronyms

Over half of the United States uses the term DUI, but 10 states use DWI to mean driving while intoxicated or impaired by drugs or alcohol. Some states use both but for different scenarios.

For example, Arkansas uses DUI for drivers younger than age 21 and DWI for drivers ages 21 and older who drive impaired. In Maryland, it’s the opposite.

To make it more confusing, DUI and DWI aren’t the only terms that states use for impaired drivers. These different acronyms are typically used when a driver’s BAC is 0.08% or higher:

Impaired Driving Acronym Definition States
OUI Operating under the influence Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts
OWI Operating while intoxicated Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin
OWVI Operating while visually impaired Michigan
DUAC Driving with unlawful alcohol concentration South Carolina

What to Expect If You Get a DUI or DWI

Woman taking a breathalyzer test for a DUI

You could face several consequences if you get a DUI or DWI. Potential penalties include:

  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • Mandatory installation of vehicle ignition interlock device
  • Community service

First-time convictions often see less severe penalties than repeat offenders. But you should still take a first offense seriously. The average first-offense DUI conviction costs $6,500.

The first DUI or DWI in most states is classified as a misdemeanor — as long as you don’t cause injury or death. The second and subsequent offenses usually result in felony charges with longer jail sentences, license suspensions, and higher fines.

DUI and DWI penalties by state

Every state, including Washington, D.C., has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. It’s a criminal offense to drive under the influence of alcohol if you’re younger than 21. And the limit is much smaller for drivers 21 and older, varying by state and ranging from 0.00% to 0.02%.

You can be charged with a DUI per se if your BAC is above your state’s legal BAC limit. All states have a BAC limit of 0.08%, except Utah, which has a 0.05% limit.

All states except Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi have enhanced penalties for a BAC level above the legal limit, though the limit and penalties vary.

The following table shows each state’s license suspension and limited driving privileges while suspended after the first offense.

State License Suspension Limited Driving Privileges
Alabama 90 days None
Alaska 90 days After 30 days
Arizona 90 days After 30 days
Arkansas 6 months Yes
California 4 months After 30 days
Colorado 3 months Yes
Connecticut 90 days Yes
Delaware 3 months None
Florida 6 months for DUI

12 months for refusal

After 30 days

After 90 days

Georgia 1 year Yes
Hawaii 3 months After 30 days
Idaho 90 days After 30 days
Illinois 6 months After 30 days
Indiana 180 days Available immediately
Iowa 180 days After 30 days
Kansas 30 days None
Kentucky 30–120 days Yes
Louisiana 12 months Yes
Maine 150 days Yes
Maryland 180 days Yes, with interlock
Massachusetts 90 days Yes
Michigan 30–180 days After 45 days
Minnesota 90 days After 15 days
Mississippi 90 days None
Missouri 90 days After 0 days with interlock

After 30 days w/o interlock

Montana 6 months Yes
Nebraska 90 days After 30 days
Nevada 90 days After 45 days
New Hampshire 6 months None
New Jersey 3 months None
New Mexico 1 year younger than age 21

6 months older than 21

Immediately with interlock
New York Yes Yes
North Carolina 30 days After 10 days
North Dakota 91 days After 30 days
Ohio 90 days After 15 days
Oklahoma 180 days Yes
Oregon 90 days After 30 days
Pennsylvania None Occupational Limited License (OLL) and Ignition Interlock Limited License (IILL) programs
Rhode Island 30–180 days None
South Carolina 1 month if > .15% BAC Yes
South Dakota 30 days Yes
Tennessee 1 year Yes
Texas 90 days for ≥ .08% BAC

180 days for refusal

Utah 120 days None
Vermont 90 days None
Virginia 7 days None
Washington 90 days With ignition interlock driver’s license
Washington, D.C. 2–90 days or until deposition Yes
West Virginia 6 months After 30 days
Wisconsin 6–9 months Yes
Wyoming 90 days Yes

All states require at least 30 days of license suspension after the first offense, except for Pennsylvania and Virginia. Most states allow limited driving privileges, like driving to and from work.

How a DUI Affects Your Auto Insurance

Man ashamed after being pulled over for driving while intoxicated

A DUI can have severe consequences on your car insurance premiums. Average rates increase by 94%, according to Compare.com data. The national average cost after one DUI or DWI conviction is $258 per month — a huge difference compared to a driver with a clean driving record.

Depending on your state and car insurance company, you can expect higher rates for three to five years. Companies also label you as a high-risk driver, making it harder to find car insurance.

You don’t even have to be at fault in an accident with a DUI to face higher rates. If you were, your insurer would likely consider the at-fault accident and DUI separate offenses and cancel your policy.

Compare Rates to Find the Cheapest Premium

Drunk vs. Drugged Driving Laws

Drugged driving means operating a motor vehicle while impaired by substances, regardless of whether the substance is legal or illegal. Examples of drugs that could cause you to get a DUI or DWI charge include:

  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Over-the-counter or prescription drugs that cause dizziness, drowsiness, or other side effects, like sleep aids, muscle relaxers, or cold medicine

Drugged driving laws can have more nuance than drunk driving laws. For example, 16 states have what’s called “zero-tolerance” laws for illegal drugs, meaning there can’t be any in your system while driving. Five states have what’s known as per-se laws, which make drug levels over set amounts illegal to drive.

DUI vs. DWI: Frequently Asked Questions

Still wondering how a DUI or DWI offense can affect you? We answered the most frequently asked questions below.

What are the primary differences between a DUI and DWI?

It depends on the state. Some states use DUI, while others charge impaired drivers with a DWI instead. And nearly 10 states use both terms, depending on the situation. In most scenarios, a DWI is a more serious offense, but that’s not always the case. It’s best to check with your state department of motor vehicles (DMV) to understand your area’s specific impaired-driving laws.

How long will a DUI stay on your record?

In most states, a DUI stays on your criminal record for five to 10 years. You’ll have a permanent criminal record in Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Vermont.

A DUI will also stay on your insurance record for three to five years, which typically means you’ll pay higher premiums.

Can you lose your car because of a DUI?

Yes. You can lose your car because of a DUI, but that’s only usually the case for repeat offenders. Law enforcement may tow a vehicle for first offenders if it’s not in a safe location, though they may allow a sober person to drive the car instead.

Will you have to go to court for a DUI?

Yes. If a police officer places you under arrest, expect to go to court for a DUI. You’ll be booked and may have the option for bail until your arraignment. The court process will vary depending on whether this is your first offense and how you plead.

Is an SR-22 required after a DUI conviction?

An SR-22 is a common requirement after a DUI or DWI conviction. Your insurance company will send an SR-22 proof of insurance form to your state’s motor vehicle department, proving you have the legally required insurance coverage. You could face heavy fines if you don’t comply with court or state laws.


  1. DUI Driving Laws, “How Much Does a First Offense DUI Cost?,” last accessed April 5, 2024.
  2. Governors Highway Safety Association, “Drug Impaired Driving,” last accessed April 5, 2024.
  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Drunk Driving,” last accessed April 5, 2024.

Compare Car Insurance Quotes

About Compare.com

Compare.com’s #1 goal is to save you money. We publish resources that are based on hard-hitting data and years of industry experience to help you make more informed decisions with your wallet.

  • All of Compare.com’s content is written and reviewed for accuracy by a team of experienced writers and editors who are experts on the topics they cover.
  • None of Compare.com’s content is ever influenced by the companies and brands we partner with.
  • Compare.com’s editorial team operates independently of any of the company’s partnership or business development interests. We publish unbiased information strictly for the benefit of our readers.
  • All of the content you see on Compare.com is based on comprehensive analysis and all data is gathered and vetted from trustworthy sources.

Learn more about us, our team, and what makes us tick.