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  • Each day in the United States, about 28 people die in drunk driving crashes. That’s why driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a criminal offense. 

    If you drive while drunk, you’ll likely be charged with an OWI or DUI. While these offenses are similar, they have some important differences. 

    OWI Vs. DUI

    Both OWIs and DUIs refer to the act of driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Most states only use one of these terms.

    What Is An OWI?

    OWI is an acronym for “operating while intoxicated.” It’s used in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

    As its name suggests, this charge involves all forms of operating a motor vehicle, not just driving one. In other words, you can get an OWI charge for being intoxicated while sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle with its engine running, even if you don’t move the vehicle. 

    In addition, in some states, you can get an OWI charge for operating not only motor vehicles but also other heavy equipment. 

    What Is A DUI?

    DUI is an acronym for “driving under the influence.” In most cases, you’ll only get a DUI charge if you’re actually moving the vehicle. 

    Most states use the term DUI instead of OWI. Other states use both terms to refer to different driving offenses. 

    For example, some states consider OWIs more severe than DUIs. You’ll only receive an OWI if your blood alcohol concentration (also called blood alcohol content or BAC) is significantly higher than the legal limit (0.08%)

    Blood alcohol concentration is the amount of alcohol in your blood. A police officer can determine your BAC using a breath test (also called a breathalyzer).

    What Happens If You Get An OWI Or DUI?

    The penalties for a drunk driving charge depend on your state’s drunk driving laws. Common penalties include:

    • jail time
    • community service
    • driver’s license suspension
    • license plate or registration confiscation
    • vehicle impoundment
    • fines

    In general, a first offense will lead to milder sentencing than a repeat offense. For instance, a first-time offender may lose their license for one year, while a repeat offender may lose their license forever. 

    Whether you’re a first-time or repeat offender, you’ll most likely need to complete rehab to reinstate your license and driving privileges. 

    You may also be required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in your car. An IID is a breathalyzer device that prevents your car from starting if your BAC is over the legal limit. 

    OWIs and DUIs can also have indirect penalties. For example, some employers refuse to hire job candidates with a history of drunk driving charges.

    Other Drunk Driving Offenses

    Some states use acronyms besides OWI or DUI to refer to drunk driving offenses. These acronyms include:

    • ADWI (Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated)
    • DUII (Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants)
    • DUII-CS (Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants: Controlled Substances)
    • DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired)
    • DWI (Driving While Intoxicated)
    • OMVI (Operating a Motor Vehicle While Impaired)
    • OUI (Operating Under the Influence)
    • OUIL (Operating Under the Influence of Liquor)
    • OVI (Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated)

    If you’ve been caught driving under the influence and need help overcoming alcohol use disorder, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Emergency Medical Services - A State-by-State Analysis of Laws Dealing With Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
    United States Department of Transportation - Drunk Driving
    United States Department of Transportation - Impaired Driving Laws, Enforcement and Prevention

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 17, 2022
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