DWI vs DUI: Which Impacts Your Auto Insurance More


WRITTEN BY: Julia Matseikovich

UPDATED: AUGUST 04, 2022 | 1 MIN READ

A DWI or DUI are three words that can cause the blood to run cold in your body. No one ever wants to hear them because it usually means they are in some trouble. Mainly these three simple letters can do a lot of damage to your driving record. You might not realize the difference between a DUI and a DWI.

DUI vs DWI

When you get a DUI, you were driving under the influence, while DWI means driving while intoxicated. Although they sound pretty similar, they are entirely different in some states. There are some states where the two terms mean the same thing but either way, you don’t want either of these terms on your driving record.

Because there is no nationwide definition of either violation, it’s hard to distinguish the difference between the two.

If that’s not confusing enough, some states will punish these two offenses differently even though they are similar. Typically, these offenses come with legal consequences as well as financial ones. For example, a DUI charge could raise your rates by 71%, that’s $1,099 or $3,297 over three years.

Let’s take a broad look at what DUI vs. DWI means.

Differences Between DWI vs DUI

DWI means driving while impaired or intoxicated; the exact definition will depend on your state. DUI can mean two things: driving under the influence of drugs (over the counter, illegal or prescription) or the influence of alcohol.

Regardless of the difference, you will receive a charge of DUI or DWI when an officer of the law deems that you are too impaired to drive. Impairment can mean many things such as sleepiness, drugs, alcohol, or other factors.

Depending on the state that you live in, you could also be charged with OWI or OUI (operating while intoxicated).

What Is Considered Drunk Driving?

Drunk driving is when you get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08%. Utah is the only state where the BAC limit is 0.05%. Drunk driving is typically treated as a misdemeanor as long as no one was killed, but those who are repeat offenders can face felony charges.

If you have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or higher, you will likely have a much higher charge. BAC can be tested through blood, breath, or urine test.

Some states will still charge you for a DWI or DUI even if you are just sitting in the driver’s seat of a car that is not moving. You can also be charged with a DUI or DWI if you are operating a lawnmower, motorized scooter, moped, bicycle, or steering a watercraft if you are under the influence.

In some states, the punishment is harsher than in other states. Some will require you to have your license suspended, and you will have to undergo mandatory alcohol education and treatment. In Alaska, for example, you can receive a 90-day suspension of your license for a first offense, but in Connecticut, the suspension is a year long. In addition, some states will confiscate your vehicle or install an ignition interlock device. The device ensures the driver has a BAC of 0.0% before the car starts.

What is Worse: DWI or DUI?

If you are in a state that recognizes a difference between the two offenses, then DWI is a more severe charge. This is because DUIs are listed as a lesser degree of impairment while DWI is worse. Getting a DWI charge lowered to a DUI is possible if it is your first offense.

How Does DUI vs. DWI Affect Your Insurance Rates?

There are more than just legal consequences for getting a DUI or DWI. There are a few consequences to consider before you get a DUI or DWI offense:

  • Mandatory community service
  • Increased car insurance rates– or loss of coverage
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device
  • Suspension of license
  • Loss of license
  • Monetary fine

If your insurance company doesn’t drop you after the DWI or DUI, you can face a car insurance rate increase of 74%. This is because you are now considered a risk to the insurance provider, and they will protect themselves against future issues if necessary.

DUI/DWIs Laws & Rate Increase by State

New York

New York has two laws that are specifically for drinking and driving. Their drunk driving charges include DWAI and DWI. DWAI stands for “driving while ability impaired,” and DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated.”

A DWAI is typically a less severe charge because it’s not obvious whether the driver is impaired. Regardless of the charge, it can result in license revocation, fines, or even jail time. In New York, a DWI offense can increase your yearly car insurance rate by $966.

Maryland

In Maryland, there is a significant difference between a DUI and vs DWI. It has more to do with the age of the driver. If you are a driver under the age of 21 and are caught driving under the influence, you will be charged with a DWI. 

Older drivers who are caught impaired are charged with a DUI. Sometimes the charge will be lowered to what’s called a “wet reckless” charge which is a charge of reckless driving involving alcohol. In Maryland, if you are charged with either DUI or DWI, you will see an increase of 78% in your car insurance rate.

Illinois

In Illinois, there is no such thing as a DWI; they only recognize DUI, which is “driving under the influence.” Illinois is considered to be a zero-tolerance state. If you are under the age of 21 and you are caught driving under the influence, you will be charged with a DUI and have your license revoked. In Illinois, if you are charged with a DUI, your car insurance rates will go up an average of $665 yearly.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, there is only one charge: DWI. There are, however, different levels of severity when it comes to that. Level 5 is their least severe, and Aggravated 1 is their most severe charge.

They will permanently stay on your record if you are charged with these. In North Carolina, you can still be charged with a DWI if you are sitting in the driver’s seat in an unmoving car. 

In addition, an officer can still charge someone who passes a breathalyzer test if he believes they are showing signs of being intoxicated. You will greatly increase your insurance rates if you get a DWI in North Carolina. On average, you will see a rise of 321%, which increases your insurance by $2880 yearly.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, DWI and DUI are the same, involving driving while impaired. Your BAC has to be above the legal limit to be charged with a DWI. You can face criminal charges and penalties if you refuse to take a BAC test.

In Minnesota, if you are charged with a DUI, you can face an average increase in car insurance rates of $749 yearly.

Texas

Texas is another state that has zero tolerance for drunk driving. A DUI is considered a lesser offense; only minors under 21 can be charged with it. A DWI is for people over 21 and has more severe consequences. You will be charged with a DWI if you are found with a BAC over 0.08% or are visibly impaired. If you are arrested for a DWI, you can expect to see insurance rates increase to $666 per year.

What Happens After A DUI or DWI Conviction?

Aside from some lifestyle changes, and higher premiums, you might have to obtain SR-22 insurance. These certificates are for high-risk drivers, certifying that you have car insurance. Florida and Virginia have the same certification, but it’s called an FR-44 certificate.

A fee of $25 to your insurance company will pay for the SR-22 or FR-44. Typically, you have to have this certificate for three years, depending on the state that you are in.

Do DUIs and DWIs Stay On Your Driving Record Forever?

Thankfully no. In most states, a DUI charge will stay on your driving record for 3-5 years. You might find that your insurance rates will go down after five years, but having a DUI on your record could affect your insurance for much longer. In California, you would not be eligible for a 20% good driver discount for ten years after the offense.

Tips To Avoiding A DWI or DUI

Avoiding getting a DUI or DWI charge is much easier than you think. Never under any circumstance operate a vehicle with any type of mind-altering substance in your system. That also goes for driving when you feel drowsy. You can still get charged with DUI if you are impaired due to insufficient sleep or falling asleep behind the wheel.

You might think you feel fine and are okay to drive, but it’s not worth the risk. Many substances will lower your ability to think rationally, and you don’t want to end up with a charge that will follow you. Here are some quick tips to avoid a DWI or DUI:

  • Leave your keys at home if you know you will be drinking that night. Hand them over to a friend if necessary.
  • If you are going to a house party, consider spending the night at your friend’s house.
  • Assign a designated driver or arrange for an Uber to pick you up at the night’s end.
  • Bring a small amount of cash when you go out, so you are limited in how many drinks you can purchase.

FAQs

What is Worse, a DWI or DUI in Texas?

A DWI in Texas is more serious than a DUI. DUIs are only used for minors under the Texas Traffic Code. You can be charged with a DUI if you have any amount of alcohol in your system, so it’s fairly easy to be found guilty. DWIs are considered a serious offense because they are charged under the Texas Penal Code.

Does Florida Consider DWIs a Crime?

A first or second DUI is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor, as long as there are no “aggravating factors.” Sometimes, a person has been charged with a felony, but that’s usually if the driver killed someone or caused bodily harm because they were impaired.

Although we have cleared up the difference between a DWI and a DUI, it’s always best to contact a lawyer if you are unsure of the charges brought against you and what you should do about them. In addition, contacting your insurance company is the best way to find out how to move forward in the best possible way so that you and your vehicle are properly covered in the future.