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The Difference Between DUI and DWI

"Driving under the influence of alcohol" and "driving while intoxicated" are terms which seem to refer to the same act or crime, but they are actually two different offenses in some states. Alcohol-impaired driving would be a good general term to describe any time an individual is drinking and driving. And although alcohol can impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely even if his or her blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is below the legal limit (.08 percent in every state), many states have enacted laws that can subject an individual to a charge of drunk driving if he or she has any measurable alcohol in their system.

However, it becomes somewhat complicated when a state differentiates between “driving under the influence of alcohol,” or DUI, and “driving while intoxicated,” or DWI. In some states, DUI is the more serious charge and carries tougher penalties, including possible jail time, probation, heavy fines and driving restrictions. DUI, in these states, is what most people think of as “drunk driving,” because a driver can only be charged with DUI if his or her BAC is at or above .08 percent.

On the other hand, in states which have both DUI and a separate offense of DWI, DWI is the more serious charge – DWI, after all, means “driving while intoxicated,” and “intoxicated” is a another word for “drunk.” DWI, then, will be charged if a driver’s BAC is .08 or above. DUI, though, may also be charged if the driver’s BAC falls within a certain range, even if it is below .08. The penalties for DUI are less than the penalties for DWI, and prosecutors will sometimes agree to reduce a charge of DWI to DUI, depending on the circumstances.

To complicate matters further, in some states (including California) DUI is the only offense that can be charged for alcohol-impaired driving, but a driver may be pulled over, charged and convicted of DUI if his or her BAC is below .08. For example, young drivers and operators of large trucks (such as big rigs) can be convicted of DUI if their BAC is .01 percent or higher (for drivers under 21 years old), or if their BAC is .04 percent or higher (for individuals who operate vehicles which require a commercial driver license). Those who violate zero-tolerance laws, which apply to young drivers, face the same and sometimes tougher penalties as adults who are charged with DUI. In fact, a driver under 21 who is caught with a BAC of .05 percent or higher may be charged and convicted of both underage DUI and adult DUI.

Also in California, a repeat DUI offender could be charged with DUI if his or her BAC is .01 percent or higher; similar laws have been enacted in other states as well. And in other states, drivers may be charged with alcohol-impaired driving even if their BAC is below .08 percent. These laws are similar to those discussed above, but the actual violation may be called something else, such as “driving while ability impaired.” Nearly all of these laws apply to drug-impaired driving as well.

Finally, some states only have DWIs on the books, and in those states, the laws are very similar to California, except instead of “DUI,” the charge is “DWI.”

Drinking and driving laws can be very confusing indeed. In some states, there is no difference between DUI and DWI, while in others they are related but each have their own set of laws with their own penalties. That is why you should contact an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer right away if you have been pulled over for DUI. An Orange County DUI lawyer who has dealt with these cases in the past can help you navigate your way through the legal process and obtain a desirable outcome. Although a DUI conviction can have serious consequences on every part of your life, being charged with drunk driving does not mean your situation is hopeless. An Orange County DUI lawyer may be able to have a DUI charge reduced or dismissed, but however your case is resolved, having an experienced DUI lawyer on your side can help you deal with your situation effectively.

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