What Is a DUI? (DUI vs DWI)
- DUI vs. DWI
- Impact on rates
- Which is worse?
- Laws by state
- Cheap insurance
There’s no nationwide definition of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated/impaired (DWI) after alcohol or drug consumption. In some states, they’re considered to be the same thing, while in others, DWI is considered to be the more serious offense.
If you want to better understand DUIs and DWIs and how these offenses can affect your car insurance rates, Jerry has compiled all the info you need.
If you’re looking for cheap car insurance after a DUI conviction, Jerry can help you find affordable rates. Jerry is a licensed broker that offers end-to-end support—this free app gathers competitive quotes, helps you switch plans, and even cancels your old policy for you.
DUI vs DWI: what’s the difference?
In some states, DUI and DWI are interchangeable, while in others a DWI is considered a more serious offense than a DUI. Either way, DWI and DUI consequences can be severe.
What is a DUI? As mentioned previously, it’s short for driving under the influence.
Authorities commonly use breathalyzers to determine whether someone is driving under the influence of alcohol. DUIs are issued when drivers have an excessive level of alcohol in their bloodstream.
In the US, the legal limit for blood alcohol content/concentration (BAC) is 0.08%. However, some states impose a lower BAC limit of 0.02% for underage drivers. Others take a zero-tolerance approach with those under 21.
Sometimes the authorities don’t need a breathalyzer test to issue a DUI. They have the authority to charge people based on suspicion of alcohol consumption, erratic driving, or field sobriety tests.
DWI stands for driving while impaired or driving while intoxicated. In the states where DWI stands for driving while intoxicated, a DWI is the same as a DUI.
However, in those states where DWI stands for driving while impaired, the term can refer to impairment from different types of drugs, both recreational and prescription. In this case, a DWI is typically considered to be an even more serious infraction than a DUI.
Basically, the state where the offense takes place has a significant bearing on the legal outcome of DUI and DWI charges.
You should also be aware that in states with “implied consent” laws, drivers must take a breathalyzer test at the request of a law enforcement officer. Refusal almost always results in a mandatory suspension of driving privileges. Some states will even revoke a motorist’s driver’s license.
MORE: Non-owner SR22 insurance
How DUI or DWI will affect your insurance rates
Your car insurance rates will often increase significantly if you have a DUI or DWI charge on your driving record. This is because you’ll be seen as a high-risk driver who’s more likely to get into an accident and file a claim.
On average, auto insurance rates rise by 80% after a DUI.
In some cases, your insurance company may consider you to be too risky to insure and non-renew or cancel your policy altogether.
Depending on where you live, another potential insurance-related consequence of a DUI or DWI is having to file an SR22 form through your insurance company. An SR22 proves to the state that you have the minimum amount of liability coverage required by law.
The fact that insurance companies weigh DUI and DWI offenses differently can make buying car insurance especially tricky. Not only will the premium increases vary from provider to provider, but some companies will take longer to forgive these offenses or lower their rates than others.
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Which is worse: DUI or DWI?
Generally speaking, DWI usually implies a higher intoxication level. As such, a DWI is usually considered to be a more serious offense than a DUI. Likewise, the penalties for a DWI are often more severe than for a DUI.
In some cases, offenders may have their charges downgraded from a DWI to a DUI, especially if it’s a first-time infraction.
Both DUIs and DWIs are serious charges, and convictions can have hefty consequences. Here are some common criminal and administrative penalties you could face:
- Tickets and fines
- Court fees
- Having your driving privileges revoked
- Community service or jail time
- Having to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
- Steep increases in your car insurance rates
DUI and DWI laws by state
The definition of DUI and DWI can vary from state to state, and the following states have notably unique approaches to the way that they define and treat these types of offenses.
Arizona only uses the term DUI. The Grand Canyon State is strict in the way that it enforces its DUI laws.
Firstly, Arizona is an implied consent state, meaning that if you refuse a breathalyzer test, you’ll receive an automatic 12-month license suspension.
Secondly, the “not-a-drop” policy means that drivers under the age of 21 can be charged over any amount of detectable alcohol in their system.
Even first-time offenses come with mandatory 24-hour jail time, and a DUI or DWI won’t ever be removed from your record. However, there are legal limits in place to restrict how long car insurance providers can increase your premiums.
California exclusively uses the DUI designation.
California is another implied consent state, and the mandatory license suspension period for refusing a breathalyzer test lasts for six months.
California also institutes harsh administrative consequences for DUIs. For instance, you will not be able to take advantage of any available insurance discounts for 10 years following your DUI charge.
Georgia doesn’t use DWI. Instead, it charges drivers with either “DUI per se” or “DUI-less-safe.”
A DUI per se is issued in situations when drivers exceed the legal 0.08% BAC limit. A DUI-less-safe refers to any type of intoxication that impairs a person’s ability to drive.
Erratic driving or swerving is enough to justify a DUI-less-safe, but a DUI per se must be proven with a breathalyzer test.
Michigan uses the term OWI—short for operating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol—instead of DUI or DWI.
A driver can be charged with an OWI if they test over the legal BAC limit or test positive for other controlled substances. It almost always comes with a minimum 180-day license suspension.
There’s also a lesser charge of OWVI—short for operating while visibly impaired—that can be issued if a driver displays any visible signs of impairment. It comes with a mandatory 90-day license suspension.
Minnesota uses the terms DUI and DWI interchangeably, and drivers must be over the legal BAC limit to prove the charge.
If charged, there are three potential “aggravating factors” that could increase the severity of the punishment, including having a BAC level of more than 0.15%, having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle, and having prior convictions in the last 10 years.
Minnesota does not allow the right to refuse a breathalyzer.
In addition to the regular DUI system, Missouri also has a more serious designation called DUID, which refers to driving under the influence of drugs. This is never removed from your driving record.
Missouri is another implied consent state. If you refuse to take a blood, urine, or breathalyzer test, your license will be revoked for 12 months and you’ll have to install an ignition interlocking device in your car for at least six months after your license is restored.
South Carolina doesn’t differentiate between DUI and DWI.
It doesn’t require BAC levels to be proven to justify a DUI charge. This means that any driver who shows signs of impaired driving can get charged with a DUI.
Texas legally differentiates between DUI and DWI, designating DWI as the more serious charge.
However, the lesser DUI charge is only issued to drivers under 21, who can be charged for having any amount of alcohol in their blood since Texas is a zero-tolerance state for minors.
In addition, any signs of intoxication justify issuing a DWI, meaning you can be charged even if you don’t take a breathalyzer test.
Texas is an implied consent state, so if you’re asked to take a breathalyzer test and you refuse, your license will automatically be suspended for 90 days.
Virginia considers DUI and DWI to be interchangeable, but it’s particularly stringent in the way that it defines impaired driving.
Anyone sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition can be charged with a DUI if they’re found to be over the legal BAC limit.
This includes situations where the vehicle is not running. If this is the case, you may be able to plea bargain down to a lesser charge called “wet reckless” in some circumstances.
Virginia also has a strict implied consent policy, and refusal to consent to a breathalyzer test will result in an automatic 12-month license suspension.
Where to get the cheapest car insurance after a DUI or DWI
Having a DUI or DWI on your record can cause your car insurance rates to spike. If you want cheaper rates, it’s recommended that you shop around and compare quotes.
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