What is the difference between DUI and DWI?

DWI vs. DUI: What’s the difference? DWI and DUI are acronyms for driving while impaired, but there is a big distinction between the two. Knowing the difference is important because each has special circumstances and punishments.

The two terms come from different Latin-based roots; DUI stands for driving under the influence, while DWI is driving while intoxicated. A DUI conviction in Virginia can lead to a misdemeanor or felony charge, which carries a significant fine and imprisonment. In addition, if a person is convicted of a felony DUI, they can lose their driver’s license and may be forced to pay restitution to the victims of any injuries sustained during the incident.

Defining DUI and DWI

Under Virginia law, a DUI conviction includes driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.08 and 0.1 percent or driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. A person with a lower BAC reading can face similar penalties as someone with a higher reading because the law states that being under the influence of alcohol is automatically sufficient to prove that person drove while impaired. 

A DWI conviction is considered a traffic infraction in Virginia and carries smaller fines than the fines imposed for DUI convictions. In addition, a DWI or DUI charge can be amended to reckless driving if the person can prove that they were not under alcohol or drugs.

Defining Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

The amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream is expressed as blood alcohol content (BAC). The higher the concentration of alcohol, the more impaired the driver becomes and the greater chances that he will be involved in an accident. A BAC measurement cannot tell whether a person has consumed enough alcohol to become legally intoxicated, but it does indicate how intoxicated a person may become when drinking. An average BAC level of 0.08 percent is considered legally intoxicated in Virginia. The driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely is significantly impaired at this level. As a result, the driver has a greater than 80 percent chance of having an accident and has a five-year cumulative risk of dying one or more times in a car crash.

A BAC reading between 0.01 and 0.07 percent indicates that the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely is significantly impaired. At this level, the driver has a greater than 80 percent chance of being involved in an accident and has a five-year cumulative risk of dying one or more times from a car crash.

Key Differences between DUI and DWI

  1. A driver with a BAC over the 0.08 percent legal limit can receive a DUI, but if that person is also under drugs, only a DWI charge may apply.
  2. A DUI conviction requires proof of impairment, while a DWI conviction requires evidence that the driver was intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
  3. A test for blood alcohol level can only be administered if the driver consents to provide that sample; however, the police officer does not need consent to administer sobriety tests or question the driver about his drinking habits. Refusing either of these tests will increase penalties for DUI and DWI convictions in Virginia.
  4. In Virginia, people may simultaneously be charged with a DUI and a DWI offense. Both charges have their penalties.
  5. A person may have to pay fines if convicted of a DUI and a significant amount of money in fines if they are charged with a felony DUI.
  6. A DUI conviction could lead to jail or prison time and lesser fines and fees. If a person is convicted of a felony DUI, they may have to pay a significant amount in fines in addition to further penalties imposed by the court. A DWI conviction can lead to up to six months in jail and bigger fines.
  7. A DUI charge is sometimes lowered to a DWI if the driver can show proof that they were not actually under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. One major difference is that people often accept plea bargains in which their charges are amended to reckless driving rather than a DWI to avoid higher fines and jail time for a conviction of a DUI.
  8. Some legal defenses for DUI and DWI convictions vary from situation to situation and state to state.

A person may be charged with both a DUI and a DWI simultaneously and may even face two separate convictions for each charge. While it can’t be determined whether a person is guilty of a DUI or a DWI without proof, there are some cases when the difference is easily discerned by looking at the circumstances.

If you’re facing an arrest for driving under the influence in Virginia, we invite you to call our office today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Often, a person charged with a DUI or DWI will file a pretrial motion to reduce their charges.

The judge may agree to dismiss the DWI charge if it’s later found that the driver was not intoxicated at the time of the incident. It’s also possible for a person to receive probation for driving under the influence and be allowed to remain on probation for other reasons that don’t involve driving.

If a person is convicted of a DUI, he will almost always go to jail. A person charged with a felony DUI may go to prison, depending on the case’s circumstances. Likewise, a person charged with a misdemeanor DUI will likely spend time in jail or prison.

The legal limit is different in every state. For example, in Virginia, the legal limit is 0.08 percent. Therefore, anyone driving with a BAC over 0.08 percent can be charged with driving under alcohol.

In Virginia, refusing a sobriety test can result in increased penalties for DUI and DWI convictions regardless of whether or not the driver is convicted on either charge.

If a person blows a 0.08 percent or higher on a breathalyzer test, they can be charged with DUI and reckless driving. That’s because Virginia law considers any level of alcohol in the blood to be “impaired.”

Inability to provide consent is not an option for driving under the influence test, and the officer may not request that a driver provide a sample for BAC measurement without first lawfully demanding one.

The person charged with the offense will likely be allowed to plead guilty to reckless driving to avoid the proceedings of a DUI or DWI trial.