Both DUI and DWI refer to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by either illegal drugs or alcohol. The biggest difference between the two terms is what the letters stand for. DWI is an acronym for driving while intoxicated or impaired, while DUI stands for driving under the influence. Throughout the US, the laws vary regarding how DUI and DWI are dealt with.
According to a 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, published in the centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) website:
- 16,885 people in the U.S. died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, representing 39% of all traffic-related deaths.
- Nearly 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s less than one percent of the 159 million self-reported episodes of alcohol–impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
- Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18% of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are generally used in combination with alcohol.
- Male drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes are almost twice as likely as female drivers to be intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or greater. It is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or higher in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
- At all levels of blood alcohol concentration, the risk of being involved in a DUI car accident is greater for young people than for older people. Sixteen present of drivers ages 16 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking alcohol.
- Young men ages 18 to 20 (under the legal drinking age) reported driving while impaired more frequently than any other age group.
- Among motorcycle drivers killed in fatal crashes, 30% have BACs of 0.08% or greater.
- Nearly half of the alcohol-impaired motorcyclists killed each year are age 40 or older, and motorcyclists ages 40 to 44 years have the highest percentage of fatalities with BACs of 0.08% or greater.
- Of the 1,946 traffic fatalities among children ages 0 to 14 years, 21% involved alcohol.
- Among drivers involved in fatal crashes, those with BAC levels of 0.08% or higher were nine times more likely to have a prior conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) than were drivers who had not consumed alcohol.
Some states differentiate between a DUI and DWI, where DUI charges are considered the lesser charge. In these states, a DUI usually signifies a lesser degree of intoxication, which is determined by a person’s blood alcohol level at the time of arrest. Sometimes, states will allow the charges of a DWI to be reduced to a DUI with the help of a drunk driving defense attorney.
For some states, like Virginia and New Jersey, there is no difference between a DUI and DWI. In Minnesota, on the other hand, there is technically no such thing as a DUI because they only use the term DWI (types of DWI's). The distinction for the federal government is drawn based on severity. A DWI is issued when the blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the 0.08 limit, whereas a DUI is a less severe term, given when a person’s BAC is under 0.08.
Learn more about DUI and DWI.