What Is the Difference between DUI and DWI?

If you are like many people, your first indication that you might be arrested for drunk driving came when you looked in your rear view mirror and saw flashing lights. Perhaps you were speeding. Maybe you rolled through a stop sign. It could be that you were missing a taillight.
Whatever the cause, if you are like most people, your drunk driving arrest was your first offense. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration reported that 77 percent of those arrested were considered first-time offenders in 2001. That number has remained fairly constant and as such, if you were arrested it was probably your first arrest and you are unsure of the legal process, the potential consequences and your options. This is a good time to contact a DUI lawyer.

If you would like to speak with a Pennsylvania drunk driving attorney, call us to schedule an initial consultation.

DUI and DWI – What’s the Difference?

The legal charge for drunk driving varies depending upon the state. In some states it is called on OWI which stands for Operating While under the Influence of drugs or alcohol. Many states use DWI which used to stand for Driving While Intoxicated and now has been revised to stand for Driving While Impaired by alcohol or drugs.

In Pennsylvania the term which is used is DUI which stands for Driving while Under the Influence of drugs or alcohol. Nationwide, the name may be different, but the standards are very similar. If a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 percent or higher, that individual can be charged with a DUI or DWI or OWI. The potential consequences will vary, depending upon the state.

In Pennsylvania, there are three levels of DUI, ranked according to the alleged BAC level. They are:

  • General Impairment defined as .08 percent BAC up to .099 percent BAC
  • High BAC includes .10 percent up to .159 percent BAC
  • Highest BAC includes anything .16 percent or higher

The two upper tiers are sometimes referred to as middle and high, even though they are high and highest. There are other laws in Pennsylvania which can be surprising to first time offenders or underage drivers. One of these laws is the so-called Zero Tolerance Law. This is a law which defines serious consequences for those under the legal drinking age of 21, who drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood. When Pennsylvania changed its DUI laws in 2004, it reduced the BAC from .08 percent to .02 percent for minors.

Drug Impairment and DUI Charges

A DUI can also be charged for driving while impaired by drugs. Some of the consequences are the same, although the arresting procedures can be different. For example, with suspected drunk driving an arresting officer can request a chemical breath test of the suspected individual. If a breath test is refused, there are additional consequences imposed. There is no corresponding breath test for impairment due to marijuana, heroin, cocaine, crack, meth or other drugs. In many instances a blood test is the only definitive test that can be given.

According to Just Drive PA, there were 56,317 DUI arrests in 2012 in Pennsylvania. Of those, more than 30 percent involved drug impairment, either in conjunction with alcohol impairment or on its own. In terms of a DUI charge with drugs, a person can be charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania if:

  • There is any schedule I controlled substance in the driver’s blood
  • There is any metabolite of a schedule I substance in the driver’s blood
  • The driver appears under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs to a degree which impairs the ability to drive safely
  • The driver appears under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol to a degree which impairs the ability to drive safely

A metabolite of a controlled substance can be thought of as the chemical residue of the drug or substance. It is like a chemical signature that a drug was present.

Understanding DUI/DWI Charges

Whether you have been charged with a first-time DUI offense, or a second or subsequent offense, there are many nuances to Pennsylvania DUI law. In addition to the three tiers of charges, there are minimum sentencing standards and sentencing guidelines which the court is required to follow.

In addition to the DUI charges, the driver’s license implications are handled as a separate matter through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

When someone is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, it is important that he or she is an active participant in the defense of those charges. Understanding the DUI charges is often the first step.
Contact us to set up a free consultation with a DUI lawyer who can fight on your behalf.