If you are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can expect your insurance premiums to skyrocket. In addition to higher insurance rates, you will be paying major fines, court costs and legal fees. It is also possible that you could find yourself behind bars and without a license. 

Learn more about the differences between convictions for driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Key Highlights
  • Most states and the federal government put the legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) at 0.08%, but Utah has lowered its limit to 0.05%.
  • Insurance rates will head up dramatically after a DUI. Average increases range from 44% in Alaska to 307% in North Carolina.
  • There are many names for a DUI including driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating under the influence (OUI), operating while intoxicated (OWI) and operating a vehicle impaired (OVI). Regardless of the name, it is a severe driving offense with major repercussions. 

What is the difference between a DUI and a DWI?

The differences between a DUI and DWI vary by state. In many states, there is only one charge for drunk or impaired driving. 

If your state recognizes a DUI and DWI as separate charges, it is possible that a DUI will refer to being impaired by alcohol while a DWI may refer to impairment by alcohol or other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin or prescription drugs.

There may also be differences in BAC thresholds between the charges. In Colorado, a driver can be charged with driving while ability impaired (DWAI) with a BAC of .05, which will escalate to driving while intoxicated (DWI) if your BAC is over .08.

Charges and BAC thresholds can vary by state, so it is important to understand your local laws and limits. Regardless of what it is called locally, a DUI or DWI refers to a situation where a person is driving a vehicle while under the influence of a substance that impacts their ability to operate the vehicle. 


While there can be differences between a DUI and DWI depending on what state you live in, they both indicate that a police officer believes you are too impaired to be operating a vehicle. The impairment can be caused by alcohol, drugs, sleepiness or other factors. 

These violations are defined at the state level as there is no nationwide definition of either, so the exact parameters of the offense will vary by state. Some states consider them two separate violations that are defined and punished differently. 

Regardless of what the offense is called, a DUI or DWI is a serious moving violation that will impact both your driving record and insurance premiums for years to come. 

We have compiled a breakdown of the differences between DUI and DWI to help you understand the major differences. However, if you have been charged with either offense, the best advice is to consult a lawyer or other legal professional.

What is a DUI?

DUI stands for driving under the influence and, in most cases, this means that a driver is operating a vehicle with alcohol in their bloodstream. The legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit will vary by state. 

The federal BAC is 0.08%, but states may charge a driver with a DUI for a much lower BAC, depending on local laws. Most states have settled on 0.08% as their legal BAC, but Utah has kept theirs at 0.05%. Check your local laws to verify your state’s BAC. 

The BAC can be even lower for younger drivers. In New York, for example, a driver under the age of 21 can be charged with a DUI under the state’s zero-tolerance law with a BAC of 0.02% up to 0.07%.

A DUI usually involves the officer checking your BAC with a breathalyzer before charging you, but officers may also do a field sobriety test or even pull you over and charge you with a DUI due to erratic driving. 

Car insurance with a DUI – here’s what a driver with a DUI needs to know

What is a DWI?

DWI can stand for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired, it will vary by state. In some states, it is also possible to be charged with operating under the influence (OUI), operating while intoxicated (OWI), driving while ability impaired (DWAI) or even Driving while ability impaired by alcohol (DWAI/alcohol).

In some states, a DWI is the same charge as a DUI, while other states may consider them separate charges. DWI may also refer to driving while impaired by drugs, which can be either recreational or legally prescribed medication. 

Which is worse: DUI or DWI?

Which one is worse will depend on where you live as DUI/DWI laws vary by state. In many states, a DWI tends to be the more serious charge as it comes with more serious consequences.

Tip iconExample

In Texas, a DUI only applies to minors and is considered a Class C misdemeanor while a DWI is a Class B misdemeanor that can move to a Class A misdemeanor if the BAC is above 0.15. If another person is injured in the incident, a DWI can become a felony. 

In the end, which is worse depends on where you live and, in some cases, your BAC level. 

Do DUIs and DWIs raise your insurance rates?

Your car insurance premiums will increase after a DUI or DWI. Law enforcement and insurance companies consider a DUI a major driving infraction and a massive risk factor when it comes to your insurance premium. 

In most cases, your rates will go up at least 60% but in some states, the increase will be dramatically more. When we ran the numbers, the increases for a first DUI ranged from 44% in Alaska all the way up to 307% in North Carolina. A second DUI will push your rates up 425% in California. 

Once your rates increase, it will be a while before they go back down. A DUI will stay on your driving record for five years to forever in some states. Insurance companies will often look back 10 years on your driving record so it could be a decade before your rates return to normal. 

It is very possible you will lose your license and be required to file an SR-22 to get your license back. This is a document your insurance company must file with the state that proves you are carrying the proper amount of car insurance. SR-22 insurance tends to be more expensive than a standard policy.

After a DUI, shopping your coverage will be paramount in finding an affordable premium. Get quotes from at least five insurers and always make sure you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to coverage levels and deductibles.

Consider smaller, regional insurers who might be able to give you a better deal than the large national insurance companies

Which states have different DUI and DWI laws?

A DUI can be called a DWI, OUI or even OWI depending on where you live. In some states, a DUI is used for alcohol-related offenses while DWI may be used for illegal drugs or prescription drugs. Regardless of the term used in your state, driving while impaired is a major offense that will increase your insurance rates.

Here is a quick breakdown of what a DUI is called in the various states.

  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI): Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Texas.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI): Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
  • Operating While Intoxicated (OWI): Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
  • Operating Under the Influence (OUI): This term is used in Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island where DUI is also used. 
  • Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI): This term is used mainly in Ohio.

What happens when you get a DUI or DWI?

A DUI or DWI is a serious driving offense and will impact your license and bank account for years. Below is a quick rundown of what you can expect once you have been convicted of a DUI.

Lose your license: It varies by state but in many cases, losing your license for a while is mandatory after a DUI. You may be able to get a temporary restricted license that allows you to drive to work and back but your everyday driving will be severely limited after a DUI. Depending on the state and your BAC, it could range from a few months to a year. 

Fines and penalties: You will be paying several fines, and the costs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In addition, you could end up in jail for a week, months or even a year, depending on the state and the severity of your DUI. In many cases, you may also end up on probation. 

It is very possible that you will be required to do community service or attend driving or substance abuse courses. You may also have to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle for some time. 

Legal fees: While you can go to court on your own for a speeding ticket, you should hire a lawyer for a major infraction like a DWI. The cost will vary depending on the specifics of your case but going into court without legal representation for a DUI is unwise. 

Insurance costs: Your insurance premium is going to skyrocket after a DUI. Rate increases can vary from 40% all the way up to 307% or more. Unfortunately, you will be paying higher rates for years in most states. How long your premium will be inflated will depend on how long it stays on your driving record.

Frequently ask questions: DUI vs. DWI

How long do DUIs and DWIs stay on your driving record?

How long a DUI stays on your driving record will vary depending on where you live but will range from a minimum of five years to a lifetime. Several states keep it on your record for 10 years while in Florida, it will be 75 years until your record is clean. Currently, 11 states keep a DUI on your record forever.

Learn more about how long a DWI stays on your record in New York

What is the legal blood-alcohol content limit?

The legal BAC limit will vary by state, but the most common limit is .08. In fact, the BAC in every state except for Utah is currently .08. Utah lowered its BAC to .05 in 2017.

Use our tool to calculate Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels

Laura Longero

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Laura Longero

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Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

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