What does DWI stand for?
If you’ve arrived at our blog, you might be able to infer the meaning from the context. You see, when alcohol and operating vehicles mix, a seemingly endless plethora of acronyms is born. Here’s just a handful of them:
- DUI – driving under the influence
- DWI – driving while intoxicated/impaired
- OPL – [operating a vehicle while] over the prescribed limit [of a given substance]
- DUII – driving under the influence of intoxicants
- OVI – operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
The list could go on and on, by all accounts. When legal slang enters any kind of debate, then using the correct terminology becomes essential. This is certainly the case in what concerns today’s topic: DWI.
Image source: Deposit Photos
What does DWI mean? A comparative definition.
To get the complete picture on the full DWI meaning, we need to also look at what DUI stands for. In common, day-to-day parlance, these two acronymic terms appear to be used interchangeably. This makes sense, since certain state laws also switch between the two, taking them to mean this exact same thing. But is this always the case, across U.S. legislatures?
Let’s draw up a comparative list of meanings for these two terms:
- In some states, DUI = DWI. The offense of drunken driving is called by both these names, with no apparent distinction between them.
- Other states use both terms, but:
- DWI = driving while intoxicated with alcohol
- DUI = driving under the influence (of either alcohol or other drugs)
The conclusion here is that DWI refers specifically to being intoxicated, i.e. too drunk to function at full motor and mental capacity, while DUI implies a lower blood alcohol content level (BAC), but one that’s still above the legal limit of 0.08%.
- Similarly, in other states that use both terms:
- DWI = driving while impaired (by alcohol, drugs, unknown substances, etc.)
- DUI = driving under the influence of alcohol
So, in this particular case, DWI refers to a state in which the person operating the vehicle is in state to be driving, but not strictly in a state caused by alcohol. Meanwhile, DUI is all about driving will drunk on alcohol, to a certain extent.
To further expand on the above points, let’s take a look at 4 major states, which use these terms together, yet not interchangeably.
DWI vs DUI in Florida, Texas, New York, and California
In all the four states to be discussed below, DUI refers to driving under the influence, while DWI refers to the so-called ‘per se’ rule.
To bring evidence which will help prosecutors press DUI charges, police officers administer field sobriety tests. DWI accusations infer a BAC level of 0.08% or above and need to be substantiated with relevant blood, breath, or urine test results. In other words, the key difference is one of evidence types.
By and large, prosecutors in all these states will focus on DWI accusations more, since breathalyzer and blood tests are far more scientifically sound than field sobriety tests. However, this doesn’t mean that drivers can’t get charged with both, in some states: first with a DUI and then with a DWI.
DUI v DWI in Texas
In Texas, the DWI clearly stipulates the BAC (as tested in the driver’s breath or blood) cannot legally be equal to, or higher than, 0.08%. Meanwhile, the DUI is less straightforward and explains that intoxicated driving is driving without “the normal use of mental of physical faculties”, as caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.
First DUI/DWI offenders in Texas found guilty have to serve 3 days to 6 months in jail. Second offenders have their term increased to one month to a year. The third offense can bring the driver up to 2 years in jail.
DUI v DWI in Florida
The legal definitions for DUI and DWI are similar in Florida. A DUI offense is driving “affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired”. First offenders get up to 6 months in jail. Second offenders risk jail time sentences of 10 days, up to 9 months, while the third offense can have the guilty party spend a minimum of 30 days, and a maximum of 5 years, in a state prison.
DUI v DWI in New York
Finally, New York laws actually cover DWI offense cases under ‘per se’ rules. Meanwhile, DUIs are cases in which people have impaired abilities to operate motor vehicles, because of alcohol and/or drug consumption and subsequent intoxication.
First-time DUI offenders get up to 15 days in jail, second offenders get up to one month, and third offenders can spend as much as 6 months in jail. DWI sentences are punished by up to one year in prison.
DUI v DWI in California
In California, the ‘per se’ rule, or DWI says it’s against the law to drive with a BAC level of 0.08%. Meanwhile, the DUI rule says it’s not legal to drive under the influence of any type of alcohol, drug, or combination thereof.
The penalties, however are identical: 4 days to 6 months in jail for either a first-time offense DUI or a DWI; 10 days to one year for a second offense; and 4 months to one year for the third one.
What is a DWI court?
You’d think it’s a place where a DWI attorney serves—and you’d be partly right. These two closely related terms cross paths once again, in courts of law whose purpose is to rule whether or not a DWI crime is a “crime of violence”, or, in other words, an aggravated felony.
DWI and DUI defendants who plead guilty in DWI courts get substance-abuse therapy and benefit from various forms of interventions. These include:
- Abstaining from alcohol;
- Receiving periodic or arbitrary visits from legal authorities;
- Enrolling in Alcoholics’ Anonymous programs;
- Putting in community service hours;
- Wearing SCRAM bracelets and other types of alcohol detection devices;
- Submitting to frequent urine and/or blood tests for BAC level control.
As of this writing, there were some 90 DWI courts in the U.S., in addition to 86 drug courts that also took on DWI cases. DWI courts are promoted by the NHTSA and boast a cost reduction, due to lower rates of repeat offenses (down from 45% in 1997, when the first such court was opened, to 13.5%, according to 2004 data).