The Federal laws does not differentiate between DUI/DWI as there is no nationwide definition of either violation. These laws differ from state to state. In USA, many states define and punish these offenses differently. But, there is a confusion in what is the difference between DUI Vs DWI. They refer to similar yet separate behavior of driving. Generally, both terms are used to describe impaired or drunken driving. It often results in financial and legal consequences. The location where the offense is committed has a major impact on the legal consequences as states with zero-tolerance policies does not differentiate in DUI and DWI law violations. A Driving under influence charge will not only affect your driving record, it results with criminal and financial penalties as well.
What is DUI ?
“Driving under the influence (DUI)”, is a criminal offense of driving under the influence of alcohol to an extent that it makes the driver incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely. The legal limit for blood-alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08%. But in few states of USA, it can also be levied if the BAC levels are 0.01% for the driver below the age of 21, for erratic driving, suspicion of the influence of alcohol, or failure of a field sobriety test(FST).
What is DWI ?
DWI means Driving While Impaired or Driving While Intoxicated. It is a criminal offense of driving under the influence of drugs which include the illicit drugs, the drugs prescribed by physicians or recreational drugs to an extent that it makes the driver incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely which may cause harm to himself or others.
A driver can be charged for these offenses if he fails:
- A field sobriety test
- BAC below the state’s legal limit.
DUI vs DWI – Which is worse ?
Many states recognize DUI vs DWI as separate offenses, a DWI offense is usually the more serious compared to DUI. It is not safe for the driver as well as others. However, if it is a driver’s first drug or alcohol-related offense, and their BAC limit is below 0.08% it can be reduced from a DWI to a DUI in some states of USA.
What are the Prosecutions for DUI Vs DWI?
Driving under influence of alcohol or other drugs is a crime in all the 50 states of USA. It is prosecuted mostly in three ways.
- The current legal limit in all states of USA is .08%, and more low for minors and commercial drivers. The state is required to prove that a test for blood alcohol content was conducted immediately after the arrest of the defendant, and that the result exceeded the legal limit. The defendant may be convicted. This type of prosecution is called a “per se” DUI.
- If the defendant’s blood alcohol content is not available, or does not exceed the legal limit, the state must prove that the driver consumed alcohol beyond the legal limit which is difficult for the state . In such a case ,the state will try to prove its case using the testimony of officer, statements of witness, field sobriety test (FST) results- A 3 steps test performed in order to determine if a driver is impaired horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand tests,audio/video recordings, etc.
- The least common prosecution requires the state to prove that the defendant was driving the vehicle with the blood alcohol content or any other evidence but unlike other prosecutions of DUI/DWI, the defendant need not have actually driven the vehicle.
What are the punishments for DUI Vs DWI?
According to a report of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) DUI is the number one cause of accidents and deaths in USA.
A person charged with DUI/DWI is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty as with any other criminal charge. The defendant must hire a DUI law attorney. If he is found guilty after a jury trial, the consequences will depend on state laws. The offenders may face suspension of their Drivers License, fines, heavy penalties or imprisonment depending upon the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s cooperation with the police. Even if the defendant is acquitted or his charges are reduced his driver’s license may be suspended after being convicted or failing blood alcohol test.
When did Driving Under the Influence become illegal?
Each state of USA is allowed to enforce their own Driving Under the Influence laws. New York was the first state in America to create drunk driving laws in 1910. The next state was California passing specific laws making it illegal when the driver has a BAC of 0.08 or more. After these two states took this initiative, all the other states of USA that fell between their borders also passed their own legislation as well. In New York, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is. 08% or more, irrespective of your driving ability being impaired.
When Did State DUI/DWI Laws Become Uniform in USA?
The American Medical Association and federal agencies encouraged to set BAC levels at 0.15 percent or lower, for DUI. Previously, States had different drinking ages, ranging from 18 to 21, but according to a research higher drinking ages correlated with lower drunk driving cases.
In the year 2000, Congress passed a law requiring each state to set its BAC limit at 0.08 % and establish the drinking age at 21. In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board suggested to lower the BAC limits to 0.05 %.
What are Driving Under the Influence laws for driver under the age of 21 Years?
Driving under the influence can result in severe fines and penalties for drivers in USA. It is more serious offense for drivers under the age of 21 as they are not legally permitted to consume alcohol. An Adult is considered guilty if his blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or more. But, there is a “Zero Tolerance” law for drivers under age of 21 which means that drivers who show a 0.01 BAC will face DUI charges.
If anyone under age of 21 is charged with DUI, it does not require the officials to prove that they are impaired to an extent that it made them incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely. The driver will face various consequences if:
- The results of preliminary breath test are 0.01 or higher. Those who are found guilty of Driving Under the Influence will lose their driver’s license for a term of one year. It is not considered as a criminal charge, so there will be no pretrial jail the DUI charge will not remain on the driver’s record.
- The BAC test result is .05 but less than .08 they face additional penalties i.e. the suspension of the driver’s license, a fine of $100, compulsory attending an alcohol education program, and vehicle impoundment with a prior conviction. It will put a DUI charge on the driver’s record.
- If there is BAC of 0.08% or greater they can face many criminal charges. It is considered a misdemeanor and results in one year suspension of the Driver’s license by the “zero tolerance” law, penalties include a maximum fine of $1,000, informal probation for up to five years, attending in an alcohol education program, imprisonment up to six months or juvenile custody.The consequences are same that applies to adults.
It does not always depend on BAC of the underage drivers but also to those swerve or engage in dangerous driving. They will be guilty of DUI and the consequences would be the same as those for a BAC of 0.08 or higher. The authorities can also issue charges for one or more of the above violations.
What are Driving Under the Influence Laws for Juvenile ?
The driver under the age of 18 yrs will be tried as a juvenile when he / she gets arrested for Driving Under Influence offense. Some courts allow the defendants to get the charges dismissed if certain conditions are fulfilled or make a plea for lesser charge. The guilty juvenile guilty is required to spend certain time in a juvenile detention center, perform community service, and/or pay huge penalties .