Unfortunately, incidents of driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are all too common.
According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in three people will be involved in an alcohol-related accident in their lifetime.
Because these offenses are so common, we might assume we understand what drunk driving means; however, there is more than one variety of DUI and DWI offense, and many nuances to state laws that may surprise you.
Defining Drunk Driving
When most of us think of drunk drivers, we imagine slurring, sloppy barflys swerving all over the road with no headlights on. Sometimes, this is the case, but it is just as likely for elegantly dressed socialites to find themselves with a felony conviction for DUI or DWI after having a few too many Champagne spritzers.
DUI and DWI laws don’t measure intoxication by how many drinks you have had, but instead by your Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC.
- 0.08%: The legal limit for regular passenger vehicle drivers in all 50 states. If you are caught driving with a higher BAC, you are breaking the law.
- 0.04%: The limit for commercial vehicle drivers.
- No Levels: Drivers younger than 21.
It is possible to be arrested for DUI or DWI even if your BAC is within the legal limits. It is not about a magic number; it is about your level of intoxication and impairment.
DUI and DWI: Is There a Difference?
There are no universal definitions to distinguish DUI and DWI across all 50 states; it is a state-by state-distinction.
In some states, such as Ohio, the two offenses are lumped together under the umbrella of “Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence.” Other states, such as Colorado, separate the two. In Colorado, a DUI is the more serious offense, but a conviction for Driving While Ability is Impaired by alcohol or drugs (DWAI) – which might mean you have a BAC of between 0.05% and 0.07% – still carries hefty penalties.
Check your state’s drunk driving laws to be sure of the rules.
Facing the Consequences
No matter which state you are in, don’t expect the courts to go easy on you. DUI and DWI are serious offenses that endanger not only the driver and his or her passengers, but everyone on the road (and the sidewalk).
Many states will immediately suspend your license. There are often hefty fines and possibly community service, classes, or other restitution depending on the severity of the offense.
You will need to obtain a DUI attorney who specializes in your state’s specific DUI and DWI laws.
How about you? Have you or someone you know ever been charged with DUI or DWI? What penalties did you face?