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OWI vs DUI: What is the Difference

OWI vs DUI, do you know the drunk driving term in your state? Many acronyms refer to drunk driving, and they can become confusing. What is even more confusing is that they may appear to have the same meaning. Three of the most common terms are:

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
  • Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)

There are, in fact, slight differences in how the laws in each state define each acronym.

Each state’s lawmakers adopt the term and its subsequent acronym at the time they are writing laws regarding impaired driving. That being said, several states, including Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan, are setting broader parameters for their definitions to avoid a gray area between the terms of driving and operating.

To understand the difference between OWI and DUI, let’s start with defining DUI and OWI.

What Is a DUI?

One of the most popular acronyms, DUI is often used interchangeably and incorrectly to refer to all aspects of drunk driving. The keyword in a DUI is “Driving”.

Each state’s laws may define “under the influence” in slightly different terms. In California, for instance, a driver may be considered impaired if he or she lacks the ability to exercise the same caution as a sober person in the same circumstances. Colorado, on the other hand, may charge a driver with a DUI if he or she appears to be impaired to the slightest degree while driving.

What Is a OWI?

If you are wondering “what is a OWI,” according to Very Well Mind, an OWI stands for operating while intoxicated, an acronym referring to a charge for driving drunk. The term used, drunk driving charge and penalty are dependent on the state and drunk driving laws.

Let’s look at the difference between OWI and DUI. According to Nolo, a DUI may forbid driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or driving under the influence of a combination of alcohol and any drugs (legal or illegal).

An OWI, on the other hand, in some jurisdictions, may be related to having the ability to control the vehicle. For example, in Michigan, a person can be convicted of operating a vehicle by the following, as stated by Nolo:

  • “intoxicated” by or “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs (called “OWI” or “DUI”), or
  • “visibly impaired” by alcohol or drugs (called “OWVI” for “operating while visibly impaired”), or
  • having any amount of a schedule 1 controlled substance in the body.

What Happens if You’re Charged with Drunk Driving?

Whether you’re charged with a DUI, DWI, or an OWI, you are facing very serious consequences. What you can expect when pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving is relatively consistent across state lines.

  • Field Sobriety Test: You may be asked to walk a straight line or follow the movements of a pen while an officer studies your eyes. You could also be asked to take a breathalyzer test.
  • Arrest: If you fail any of the sobriety tests, or you refuse to take the breathalyzer, you could be arrested and jailed. An additional test to confirm the presence of drugs or alcohol may be required.
  • Court Date: If charges are filed, a court date may be set. Each state handles the procedure differently.
  • Consequences: If you are convicted of a first offense drunk-driving charge, you could face a minimum fine, jail time, and suspension of your driver’s license. You may also be required to install an ignition interlock device to maintain driving privileges. Additionally, you may pay much higher insurance rates.

We hope you have a better understanding of OWI vs DUI. Contact Draeger at 1 (800) 332-6858 if you are in a situation that requires you to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. We are certified in states across the country and offer convenient locations to get you back on the road, safely.

*Links to any third-party websites herein are provided for your reference and convenience only. Dräger did not create nor develop, and does not own, any such third-party websites. Dräger does not endorse nor support the content of, nor any opinions stated in, any such third-party website links. Dräger is not responsible for the content of any third-party website or its accuracy or reliability. Nothing contained in this article or in any such third-party website shall be considered legal advice or be deemed to constitute legal advice. For any legal advice concerning a DUI arrest, charge, conviction or consequences thereof, you should contact an attorney of your choice.