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DUIs, DWIs, and related charges almost always result in increased car insurance premiums and license suspension. Because states define these terms differently, the specific terms vary and may carry different implications.
Here’s what you need to know about traffic laws in your state, including the differences between DUIs, DWIs, and similar charges; what penalties and fines you may encounter; and how long your license might be suspended in each state.
DUI vs. DWI: What’s the difference?
A DUI charge stands for “driving under the influence,” while a DWI charge stands for “driving while impaired or intoxicated.” Though these terms refer to the same charge in some states, DUIs and DWIs have distinct meanings elsewhere.
State laws vary, but a DUI charge can be more serious than a DWI charge in states with both charges. People typically face charges when caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limits set by the state. If you’re convicted of either one of these crimes, you’ll likely face severe consequences.
Common penalties for a DUI or DWI conviction include higher insurance rates, fines, license suspension, and possible jail time.
In every state, drivers are considered intoxicated with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. In most states, the limit for drivers of commercial vehicles is lower — 0.04%, according to the American Addiction Centers.
OUI vs. OWI
Some states use terms similar to DUI and DWI, like OUI and OWI. An OUI charge stands for “operating under the influence,” while an OWI charge means “operating while intoxicated.” Both terms refer to charges similar to DUI and DWI charges. The following states use this terminology:
OWVI vs. DUAC
OWVI means “operating while visibly impaired,” while DUAC means “driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration.” These also carry similar meanings to DUI and DWI charges.
If you’re in South Carolina, you can be charged with a DUAC if you’re driving with a 0.08% BAC or greater. In Michigan, you can be charged with an OWVI if caught driving under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance.
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DUI and DWI laws by state
Below is a table that breaks down the laws for DUI, DWI, and related charges in each state, sourced from official state government websites and state driving laws published by NOLO. In the column for penalties, you’ll see required fines and points added (where applicable) to the driver’s record following the incident.
A DUI will stay on your record for at least five years, but how long a DUI remains on your record after that depends on the state you live in. In most states, a DUI charge remains on your criminal record for seven to 10 years. Other states, like Indiana, Colorado, and Massachusetts, require a DUI charge to remain on your record permanently.
How a DUI affects insurance rates
Whether you live in a state where DUI charges stay on your record permanently or just for five years, you’ll face increased auto insurance rates. Auto insurers view your driving record as an indicator of risk levels and your likelihood of filing claims. So a severe charge, like reckless driving or a DUI, will make them view you as a high-risk driver. Beyond earning higher rates for yourself, you may also face insurers unwilling to take you on as a policyholder due to your record.
Not technically insurance, an SR-22 form is a certificate that provides proof to your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) that you meet minimum insurance requirements. If your license is suspended after a DUI or DWI, your state will likely require an SR-22 form from your insurer before reinstating your license or renewing your vehicle registration. Some insurers don’t offer these forms, so you’ll have to confirm with your current or future auto insurer that they do.
DUIs and DWIs FAQs
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about DUIs and DWIs.
What’s the main difference between a DUI and DWI?
A DUI and DWI are interchangeable in some states, but these terms have different meanings in states that charge for them separately.
For example, a DUI charge could mean you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. By comparison, DWI means you were driving while intoxicated by alcohol or under the influence of a controlled substance.
How many points is a DUI?
The number of points that are placed on your driving record after a DUI varies by state, but some states don’t use point systems at all. If you live in California, two points will be added to your record. But if you’re convicted of a DUI in Arkansas, 14 points will be added to your record.
Is a DWI worse than DUI?
The answer to this question depends on where you live. In states that charge separately for a DUI and DWI, a DWI is typically a more serious charge. But if you live in Maryland, a DUI is the more serious offense.
What happens when you get a DUI?
When you get a DUI, a police officer usually pulls you over because they suspect you’re driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. If the officer determines they have probable cause to arrest you for DUI, they’ll likely take you to a nearby jail or police station. They may give you a breathalyzer test during the stop to determine probable cause.
Afterward, you can resolve the matter by accepting a plea deal or going to trial. A DUI can remain on your record for seven to 10 years in most states if you’re found guilty. Specific penalties — like fees, license suspension, points, and jail time — vary by state.
What is a high BAC for a DUI?
The typical BAC threshold in the United States is 0.08%. The BAC limit, however, is much lower for drivers younger than 21 — generally ranging from 0% to 0.02%.
You can receive harsher penalties for having a BAC above a certain amount. For instance, if you’re convicted of a DUI in Alabama with a BAC of 0.15% or higher, you’ll receive a much more significant punishment than a BAC under 0.15%.
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Insurify data scientists analyzed more than 90 million quotes served to car insurance applicants in Insurify’s proprietary database to calculate the premium averages displayed on this page. These premiums are real quotes that come directly from Insurify’s 50+ partner insurance companies in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Quote averages represent the median price for a quote across the given coverage level, driver subset, and geographic area.
Unless otherwise specified, quoted rates reflect the average cost for drivers between 20 and 70 years old with a clean driving record and average or better credit (a credit score of 600 or higher).
Liability-only premium averages correspond to policies with the following coverage limits:
Bodily injury limits between state-minimum rates and $50,000 per person, $100,000 per accident
Property damage limits between $10,000 and $50,000
No additional coverage
Full-coverage premium averages correspond to the same bodily injury and property damage limits in addition to:
Comprehensive coverage with a $1,000 deductible
Collision coverage with a $1,000 deductible
Quotes for Allstate, Farmers, GEICO, State Farm, and USAA are estimates based on Quadrant Information Services’ database of auto insurance rates.
Jerry has been writing about personal finance for over four years. He started writing about personal finance in 2017 to document his journey to get rid of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Two years ago, he pivoted away from writing for his own blog to focus on writing for major publishers like Bankrate, Forbes Advisor and Credible. He covers a variety of topics, including insurance, debt management and personal loans.