Drunk and drugged driving are illegal in every state, and with good reason. But because these behaviors are governed under state laws rather than federal law, the specific terms used and their meanings vary from state to state (as do the criminal charges and potential punishments imposed).
In some states, DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated/impaired) are synonymous terms and used interchangeably. In other states, the two crimes are similar in nature but legally distinct. In still other states, wholly different terms are used to describe alcohol-impaired driving. Below is some information that will hopefully provide at least some clarity to these terms and their meanings.
Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired
In most cases, DWI is used to refer to driving while intoxicated/impaired by alcohol. In some states, it refers to what’s known as “per se” drunk driving, meaning that the driver is legally drunk because they have a blood-alcohol concentration at or above 0.08 percent. Most of the time, though, DWI is a term referring to alcohol-based impairment leading to criminal charges.
As a side note to blood-alcohol concentration: Someone can be charged with drunk driving in any state with a BAC below the legal limit if their driving behavior is sufficiently impacted by the amount of alcohol in their system. It won’t be a “per se” case, but they could nonetheless be charged and convicted.
Driving Under the Influence
As a general rule (with numerous exceptions, of course), DUI is a term used to describe driving under the influence of substances other than alcohol, also known as drugged driving. This could include the influence of illegal street drugs like marijuana or heroin. It could also include impairment from legal prescription drugs like opioid painkillers or certain anxiety medications (known as benzodiazepines). It could also refer to more common mood- or cognition-altering drugs like Ambien.
To reiterate, DUI is generally used to describe drug-impaired driving, but plenty of states still use it in reference to alcohol-impaired driving. In Texas, a DUI is only issued to drivers under age 21 caught with any amount of alcohol in their systems, since they are below legal drinking age.
Numerous states have chosen their own terms for drunk or drugged driving other than DWI and DUI. Here are just a few examples:
Whatever you call it, the bottom line is the same: these charges are serious and need to be addressed with the help of an experienced attorney.
Discuss Your Case With an Attorney Today
If you’ve been charged with an offense related to driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, you can’t afford to be passive in your own defense. Experienced attorneys are ready to help you fight the charges you are facing or otherwise resolve them in the most favorable manner available. Contact a lawyer in your area today to learn more about the differences between DUI and DWI. Call the Saavedra Law Firm.