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Is There A Difference Between DUI, OWI, And DWI?

Drunk driving accounts for a staggering 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States, making it one of the deadliest activities for any driver to engage in. It's no wonder that there are steep penalties associated with driving under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance that impairs one's judgment and cognitive abilities.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, you may notice that you're being charged with a DUI, OWI, or DWI, depending on your location. The following talks about the differences and similarities between these legal terms, as well as a few other variations used by lawmakers to describe drunk driving.

Different Names, Same Offense

The term "Driving Under the Influence," known as "DUI" for short, is a common one used throughout the US to describe the act of drunk driving. If you're in Indiana, Iowa, or Wisconsin, however, you might hear the term "Operating While Intoxicated" or "OWI" instead. It's not unusual for some states to have their own terminology for describing drunk or impaired driving. Other terms include:

Despite the differing terminology, the underlying definition is usually the same in most states. The penalties for DUI, OWI, and DWI may even be the same, in some cases. It all depends on how the state statutes governing drunk driving are worded and interpreted.

Exceptions to the Rule

While most states don't differentiate between DUI, OWI, and DWI, others may draw distinctions between those charges. In these states, a DUI charge often indicates a lesser degree of impairment, whereas a DWI or OWI is treated as a more serious offense. These distinctions are often determined by a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) during their arrest, although other factors may also be considered.

If you're charged with DWI or OWI in a jurisdiction that classifies these legal terms separately, you may be able to have the charge downgraded to a DUI via plea bargain. However, there are certain conditions you'll need to meet in order to have your charges reduced. You may be able to plea to a lesser charge of DUI if it's your first offense, for example.

Your chances of being charged with either offense may also depend on your blood alcohol concentration being over or under the state's legal limit. In New York, for example, you could be charged with "Driving While Ability Impaired," a lesser offense than a DUI, if your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08. On the other hand, exceeding the legal BAC limit by more than double could earn you an enhanced charge of Aggravated DWI.

What to Do If You're Charged With DUI, OWI, or DWI

Regardless of what it's called, drunk driving is a serious offense that often comes with serious penalties that can have a negative impact on your life. Regardless of the type of charge you end up with, a conviction could cost you your driving privileges and lighten your wallet due to legal fees. Having a conviction on your record could also restrict your employment opportunities and increase the penalties for other criminal offenses.

The best way to avoid any type of drunk driving charge is to simply not get behind the wheel of any vehicle if you've been drinking, even if you think your BAC is well under the legal limit. If you're facing a drunk driving charge, however, getting legal representation as soon as possible can significantly improve your case's outcome. A skilled attorney may be able to get your current charges reduced or even dismissed entirely. Contact a DUI lawyer in your area for additional information.