The Difference Between OWI, DWI, and DUI

A DWI (or DUI) charge refers to driving a car while impaired, while an OWI charge refers to being in actual physical control of a car, even if parked.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
While often used interchangeably, the terms OWI, DWI, and DUI are all slightly different charges related to drunk driving. OWI stands for operating while intoxicated and can include instances where the vehicle isn’t actually moving. Both DWI (driving while intoxicated) and DUI (driving under the influence) specifically refer to a driver being pulled over and cited for impaired driving.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair your judgment, decrease your reaction time, affect your depth perception, and put everyone on the road at risk, including yourself. As a result, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.08% or more—in Utah, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC above 0.05%. Still, the exact definitions and penalties for this offense vary from state to state. 
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What’s an OWI?

OWI stands for operating while intoxicated, and it’s a more inclusive term that refers to instances of drunk driving as well as actions where a driver is in actual control of the vehicle, meaning that the driver has the ability to operate the vehicle, even if it is not in motion.
In addition to driving while intoxicated, this charge can include:
  • Sitting in the driver’s seat while the car is parked while intoxicated
  • Sitting in the driver’s seat with the ignition off while intoxicated
  • Being asleep at the wheel after consuming alcohol
The OWI charge was designed to encompass situations where an intoxicated driver is impaired and in actual physical control of a vehicle (by virtue of sitting in it). If the driver isn’t technically driving the vehicle, a DUI or DWI charge may not apply—the OWI charge is a counter to this argument.
Key Takeaway An OWI is a broader impaired driving charge applicable to instances where an intoxicated person is in actual physical control of a vehicle, even if stopped, parked, or otherwise not in motion.

OWI vs DWI/DUI

DWI stands for driving while intoxicated and DUI stands for driving under the influence. Both terms refer to instances where an impaired individual is actually driving a vehicle, but OWI also refers to being in actual physical control of a vehicle that is stopped or parked.
DWI/DUI laws forbid driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including both illegal and legal substances. The exact legal definition varies from state to state.
Most states pick OWI, DWI, or DUI to use as the terminology in their drunk driving laws; they rarely include more than one of those terms.

What happens if you’re charged with an OWI, DWI, or DUI?

If you are suspected of driving or operating a vehicle while intoxicated, you will be pulled over by the police. The procedure may be different depending on your state, but the law enforcement officer will likely make you take a field sobriety test and/or a breathalyzer test. If you refuse the test, you may be arrested and your license could be suspended.
If you are convicted of an OWI, DWI, or DUI charge, you may face the following consequences:
  • Fines
  • Imprisonment
  • License suspension or revocation
  • Penalty points added to your driving record
Also, your car insurance premium will likely go up if you’re charged with impaired driving.
Eventually, you may have to apply for a hardship license in order to drive again. A hardship license is a restricted license usually granted on a case-by-case basis for people who can prove that they need to use a car in order to get to and from work, school, or medical appointments.
Additionally, you may be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your car in order to get your license back. With an IID, you can only start your car after you’ve breathed into a small breathalyzer device and the IID has determined that your blood alcohol level is below the legal limit.
After a first impaired driving charge, the penalties for a second or subsequent impaired driving charges get progressively more severe.

Recovering your driver’s license after an OWI, DWI, or DUI

Once you have fulfilled any obligations stemming from an impaired driving conviction, you can begin the process of recovering your suspended or revoked driver’s license. 
Here’s how the process goes, from being charged to eventually getting your license back:
  • Attend OWI/DWI/DUI hearing and present case
  • Pay any fees (court, reinstatement, or bail)
  • Finish your driver’s license suspension/revocation period
  • Complete all court-ordered obligations, such as DUI traffic school or a treatment program
  • Contact your insurance company and find out if you need SR-22 coverage
  • Go to your local DMV (or equivalent agency) and apply for driver’s license reinstatement

The penalties for impaired driving charges by state

For the most part, leniency for drivers charged with impaired driving is exceedingly rare. If you are pulled over and cited for impaired driving, expect to be charged
Here’s a table illustrating potential penalties for a first-time impaired driving offense, whether it’s an OWI, DWI, or DUI:
State
Charge
Fines
Jail time
Other penalties
Alabama
DUI
$600 to $1,200
Up to 1 year
90-day license suspension
Alaska
DUI
At least $1,500
At least 72 hours
90-day license revocation
Arizona
DUI
At least $1,250
At least 10 days
At least a 90-day license suspension; alcohol education and treatment program; community service
Arkansas
DWI
$150 to $1,000
1 day to 1 year
6-month license suspension; alcohol education and treatment program
California
DUI
$390 to $1,000
Up to 6 months
6-month license suspension; DUI program
Colorado
DUI
$600 to $1,000
5 days to 1 year
9-month license revocation; 48-96 hours of community service
Connecticut
DUI
$500 to $1,000
Up to 6 months
45-day license suspension
Delaware
DUI
$500 to $1,500
Up to 1 year
3-month license revocation
Florida
DUI
$500 to $1,000
Up to 6 months
Minimum 180-day license revocation; 50 hours of community service; DUI school
Georgia
DUI
$300 to $1,000
10 days to 1 year
40 hours of community service
Hawaii
Operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OVUII)
$250 to $1,000
2 to 5 days
1-year license revocation; 14-hour rehab program; 72 hours of community service
Idaho
DUI
Up to $1,000
Up to 6 months
90- to 180-day license suspension
Illinois
DUI
$75 to $2,500
Up to 1 year
1-year license suspension
Indiana
OWI
Up to $500
Up to 60 days
Up to a 180-day license suspension; community service
Iowa
OWI
$625 to $1,250
2 days to 1 year
180-day license suspension
Kansas
DUI
$750 to $1,000
At least 2 days
30-day license suspension; alcohol safety and substance abuse treatment program; 100 hours of community service
Kentucky
DUI
$200 to $500
2 to 30 days
6-month license suspension; 90 days of alcohol or substance abuse program
Louisiana
DWI
$300 to $1,000
10 days to 6 months
Up to 2-year probation; 48 hours of community service; substance abuse program; driver improvement program
Maine
OUI
At least $500
Minimum 2 days (if BAC over 0.15%)
150-day license suspension
Maryland
DUI
Up to $1,000
Up to 1 year
Up to 6-month license suspension
Massachusetts
OUI
$500 to $5,000
Up to 2.5 years
1-year license suspension
Michigan
OWI
$100 to $500
Up to 93 days
6-month license suspension; up to 360 hours of community service; 150 days of license restrictions
Minnesota
DWI
Up to $1,000
Up to 90 days
90-day license revocation
Mississippi
DUI
$250 to $1,000
Up to 48 hours
30- to 90-day license suspension; alcohol safety education program
Missouri
DWI
Up to $500
Up to 6 months
90-day license suspension; 60 days restricted license
Montana
DUI
$300 to $1,000
Up to 60 days
6-month license suspension
Nebraska
DUI
$500
7 to 60 days
6-month license suspension
Nevada
DUI
$400 to $1,000
2 days to 6 months
185-day license suspension
New Hampshire
DUI/OUI
$500 to $1,200
N/A
9- to 24-month license revocation
New Jersey
DUI
$250 to $400
Up to 30 days
12 to 48 hours at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center program; 3- to 12-month license revocation
New Mexico
DWI
Up to $500
Up to 90 days
1-year license suspension
New York
DWI
$500 to $1,000
Up to 1 year
At least 6-month license revocation
North Carolina
DWI
Up to $1000
72 hours to 6 months
1-year license revocation
North Dakota
DUI
$500 to $750
2 days
91-day license suspension; addiction evaluation
Ohio
Operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI)
$375 to $1,075
3 days to 6 months
1- to 7-year license suspension
Oklahoma
DUI
Up to $1,000
10 days to 1 year
180-day license revocation
Oregon
DUI
At least $1,000
Up to 1 year
License suspension
Pennsylvania
DUI
$300
6 months probation
Alcohol highway safety school
Rhode Island
DUI
$100 to $300
Up to 1 year
10 to 60 hours of community restitution
South Carolina
DUI
$400
48 hours to 30 days
License suspension
South Dakota
DWI
$300 to $1,000
Up to 1 year
Minimum 30-day  license revocation
Tennessee
DUI
$350 to $1,500
48 hours to 1 year
1-year license revocation
Texas
DWI
Up to $2,000
Up to 180 days
90- to 365-day license suspension
Utah
DUI
At least $700
2 days to 180 days
120-day license suspension; 48 hours community service
Vermont
DUI
Up to $750
Up to 2 years
90-day license suspension
Virginia
DUI
At least $250
1-year license suspension
Washington
DUI
Up to $5,000
Up to 364 days
90-day license suspension
West Virginia
DUI
$100 to $500
Up to 6 months
6-month license revocation
Wisconsin
OWI
$150 to $300
6-month license revocation
Wyoming
DUI
Up to $750
Up to 6 months
90-day license suspension; substance abuse treatment
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