Breaking Down Driving While Impaired vs DUI

Enforcing laws, setting up sobriety checkpoints, and requiring ignition interlock devices are just a few of the steps that have effectively reduced alcohol-impaired driving incidences, but drunk driving still remains a large problem in the United States.

Laws for drunk driving differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Whether you’re traveling across state lines, moving, or just plain curious, it’s a good idea to understand these laws to protect yourself, protect those around you, and keep yourself out of trouble. Where some jurisdictions may refer to drunk driving charges as DUIs, you may hear others refer to them as DWIs. Let’s break down the difference between these two charges and what they entail.

Understanding DUI and DWI

DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” while DWI stands for “driving while impaired” or “driving while intoxicated.” The two main parts to any DUI or DWI charge are the operating of a vehicle and being under the influence.

Operating a vehicle usually involves driving your car or truck, but it can essentially comprise any sort of motor vehicle, including a tractor, motorcycle, or golf cart. You may even be charged with a DUI for riding a bike, skateboard, or horse while drunk. In certain stricter jurisdictions, you could be charged with a DUI or DWI  if you were found in your car with the engine off and the key still in your pants, but in most states, you have to be in direct control of the vehicle while it is moving.

Depending on the state laws, the two terms can have different connotations.

Interchangeable Terms

In some states, DUI and DWI are two terms that be used interchangeably to refer to both alcohol-impaired driving and/or driving under the influence of certain controlled substances. In legal terms, some states may refer to a drunk driving offense as a DUI where others may refer to it as a DWI.

Differentiating Substances

In certain states, driving while intoxicated can refer to more than just alcohol and may include driving with drugs or substances other than alcohol in your system, while a DUI specifically refers to operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

Different Levels of Impairment

Finally, in other states, DUI and DWI charges are actually two separate offenses. Both are related to drunk driving, but DUIs refer to driving with a BAC under 0.08 percent while DWIs involve driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or over.

Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration

Before we get deeper into DUIs and DWIs, let’s make sure you have a clear understanding of BAC. BAC, or blood alcohol content or concentration, is a quantifiable measure of the amount of alcohol in your system.

It is often presented as percentage equivalent to the number of grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. So, for instance, if your blood alcohol concentration is at 0.05 percent, you have about 0.05 grams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood in your body.

Your liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, and it can generally process one standard alcoholic drink per hour. When you have more than one standard drink per hour, your liver is unable to metabolize it all at once, so that excess alcohol gets stored in your blood and other body tissues, leading to a higher BAC that can last for several hours.