What Is DWI?

If you reach much about drunk driving, you will sometimes see the term DWI used as well as, or instead of DUI. The two terms stand for two slightly different legal concepts:

  • DWI: Driving While Intoxicated
  • DUI: Driving Under the Influence

DWI is essentially the same thing as DUI, Driving Under the Influence. The state of California uses the term “DUI” exclusively. Both terms refer to driving while impaired by some kind of substance, either alcohol or drugs. 

An image of scales in shadow with a DWI stamp.

An image of scales in shadow with a DWI stamp. What is DWI in California? It’s the same as DUI.

Why the Difference?

Most states use the two terms to mean the same thing. But some states use them slightly differently. In those states, DUI and DWI are two different criminal charges. Under that system, DWI is the more serious charge, and it carries heavier penalties. 

This is because it takes a higher burden of proof to show that a driver was definitely impaired (“Driving While Intoxicated”) than it does to simply show they had alcohol in their system (“Driving Under the Influence”). But most states have moved away from this system.

Which Term Is Used in California?

In California, the courts only officially use the term “DUI.” If you’re arrested for DUI, you can be convicted because the court proves you had a high blood alcohol level, or because the court shows evidence that you were impaired. Either is enough to convict you, and the penalties are the same either way.

However, you will still see some law offices and resources refer to DWI because so many people are familiar with it. People moving in from out-of-state may be used to the term DWI. As long as you’re in California, you can treat the terms as synonyms.

How Much Alcohol Must I Drink to Be Charged?

California law states that if you have 0.08% or higher blood alcohol content, then you are considered DUI regardless of other factors. If you have less than that, you could still be charged if your driving shows impairment, like weaving across lines or going the wrong way on one-way roads.

How much alcohol you need to become DUI depends on your weight, your gender, your sensitivity to alcohol, the kind of alcohol you’re drinking, and how long it’s been between drinks. For most people, three drinks are enough to make you DUI or DWI. The only way to reduce your level of intoxication is to wait long enough.

If I Received DWI in Another State, Will It Count Here?

Likely, yes. California treats DWI and DUI to be the same charge, so any out-of-state penalty for DWI will be considered as having a DUI here. You will need to speak to the DMV about what to do to reinstate your license if you need to.

What to Do If You Think You’re Charged with DWI

Have you been charged with what you think is a DWI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or contact us and get your free consultation today. Your freedom and driving privileges may depend on it!

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