What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

You might have heard the acronyms DUI and DWI used interchangeably. DUI stands for driving under the influence. DWI may stand for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Depending on the state, these two terms can refer to the same offense or can have different legal definitions.
In all states, being charged with a DUI or a DWI means that you are being charged with an offense that is serious. DUI offenses mean that you are facing charges of engaging in conduct that risks your own safety as well as that of others. DUI offenses can be charged when you have been driving after drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs, or driving after you have taken certain prescription medications that cause your driving ability to be impaired. No matter what your charge might be called, it can have a major impact on your life. At DiCindio Law, we represent people who are facing Pennsylvania DUI charges to help them to secure the most favorable resolutions to their cases.

DUI and DWI definitions

The definitions of what constitutes a DUI and what constitutes a DWI vary from state to state. In some states, a DUI refers to driving after drinking alcohol. In others, it might refer to driving under the impairment of drugs. Some states use DUI as a term for a lower level of impairment while a DWI refers to a higher level of impairment. Other states have that reversed. Some states only use one acronym or the other to refer to alcohol- and drug-related driving offenses. It can become tricky when a state uses both terms.


Some states use different acronyms all together for drunk driving. For example, three states, including Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island, use the acronym OUI. OWI is used to refer to operating while intoxicated in some locations.

DUI in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania uses the term DUI. While people may use the terms DUI and DWI interchangeably in the state, they both refer to the same statute. 

Pennsylvania law divides DUI offenses into three levels, according to the level of intoxication as measured by the blood alcohol concentration. A general impairment DUI offense describes a BAC of 0.08 to 0.099. A high BAC DUI refers a DUI with a BAC of 0.10% to 0.159%.

A highest BAC DUI offense refers to a BAC of 0.16% or higher. The penalties for these different levels of DUI offenses vary.

Despite the different tiers of DUI offenses in Pennsylvania, your blood alcohol concentration is not the sole factor in determining whether you were driving while you were impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Being charged with a DUI can occur if an officer has a reasonable belief that you were too impaired to drive. This means that you can be charged with a DUI offense even if you do not submit to testing or when the officer believes that you were impaired.

For instance, if the officer observes signs that you are impaired such as bloodshot eyes, a smell of alcohol, slurred speech, an unsteady gate, and other indicators of impairment, you may be charged.

Drugged driving is considered to be impaired driving

You can be charged with a DUI offense even if you submit to a preliminary breath test at the side of the road that is negative for the presence of alcohol.

Because of the observations that the officer has made, he or she might believe that you are under the influence of another substance that may be impairing your ability to drive.

This can include illegal drugs, over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs that you are legally prescribed to take. The officer who stopped you is able to call a drug recognition expert to come to the scene who can perform some different tests.

It is important for you to read the warning labels on all over-the-counter and prescription medications that you take before you get behind the wheel. If you don’t, you may be at risk of being charged with a DUI regardless of the legality of your medication.

Consequences of a DUI arrest

If you are arrested and charged for a DUI, you may face serious penalties. Depending on your BAC, the penalties may be more severe for higher levels.

If you are convicted of a DUI or enter a guilty plea, you may lose your driving privileges, be assessed penalties and court fees, face time in jail, be ordered to attend alcohol classes, and other penalties. You might also be placed on probation and be required to perform community service hours.

You may be required to submit to an assessment of your substance use or drinking and to follow any recommendations that are made from this assessment.

Beyond these penalties, you might also face some collateral consequences such as losing your job, having trouble finding a new job, being embarrassed, and having a criminal record.

Your insurance premiums will also likely increase for several years, and you might have to have an ignition interlock device installed in every vehicle that you drive at your own expense.

Regardless of what the offense might be called, getting arrested and charged for a DUI can be very expensive and time-consuming. You can avoid these types of charges by not getting behind the wheel when you are impaired.

Contact Our DUI Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA DUI lawyers at DiCindioLaw, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC

29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535

***This blog article is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Please contact DiCindio Law, LLC for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case. ***