Which Is Worse: A DUI or DWI?

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is often referred to as DUI or DWI. There are some differences between a DUI vs DWI. Keep reading more to learn what the differences are between these two and the various state laws and penalties for each of them.

DUI in Louisiana Explained

What Is a DUI? 

DUI stands for “Driving under the influence.” A person is considered to be under the influence when they are impaired by alcohol or drugs. In most states, the limit your blood alcohol content can be at to drive legally is 0.08%.

Most DUI stops include a breath test to measure your blood alcohol content. This test is quick and done during the stop because a person only has to breathe into the test.

A lot of states do not have a limit in place for drug use while driving because it takes a blood or urine test to see what drugs are in a person’s system, which takes time and cannot be done during the stop. Unlike with alcohol, it is difficult to measure a percentage of drug use.

What Is a DWI? 

DWI stands for “Driving while intoxicated” or “Driving while impaired.” A person receives a DWI if they’re driving or operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. In some cases, a person could also get a DWI if the officer deems the driver is too sleepy to safely operate a vehicle.

The consequences for a DWI vary from state to state, and the severity of the charges can also depend on circumstances such as how high someone’s BAC (blood alcohol content) is and how many DWI offenses someone has on their record. In Baton Rouge, for example, if the driver’s BAC level is over 0.15% or 0.20%, then the penalties are harsher.


The difference between DUI and DWI is that DUI stands for driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs and DWI stands for driving a vehicle while intoxicated from alcohol. However, in Louisiana, DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and DUI (Driving Under the Influence) actually mean the same crime in Louisiana under the statute of La. R.S. 14:98. There is no difference between DWI and DUI when it comes to penalties.  Some states the offense is a DUI, and others call it a DWI.  In Louisiana, the crime is Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated. The statute provides that it is unlawful to operate a vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both. Some refer to the law as the OWI statute. See the below relevant portion of the DWI/DUI statute in Louisiana.

The crime of operating a vehicle while intoxicated is the operating of any motor vehicle when:

  • The operator is under the influence of alcohol; or
  • The operator’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or more; or
  • The operator is under the influence of any CDS drugs; or
  • The operator is under the influence of a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs which are not controlled dangerous substances and which are legally obtainable with or without a prescription;
  • The operator is under the influence of one or more drugs which are not controlled dangerous substances and which are legally obtainable with or without a prescription.

Some states treat DUIs and DWIs as the same thing, so the state will choose to only use the term DUI or only use the term DWI when arresting someone for driving while impaired. However, other states may see the two as different situations.

In these states that see them as separate meanings, the severity of the charges may be different. 

The state of Louisiana gives a DWI instead of a DUI for the term used to describe drunken or impaired driving. There is no difference between a DWI and a DUI in Louisiana; they don’t have separate statutes for a DUI. All situations of driving under the influence are referred to as DWIs.

Louisiana drunk driving laws say for someone who is 21+ years of age and a non-commercial driver, the legal BAC limit to drive is 0.08%. Drivers of commercial vehicles are considered driving while impaired if their BAC level is over 0.04%, and drivers under the age of 21 are considered drunk driving if their BAC is over the limit of 0.02%.


Influence vs. Intoxication: The Real Difference

Perhaps the best explanation of the difference between DUI and DWI is that driving under the influence (DUI) is commonly thought of as driving under the influence of marijuana or pills, while driving while intoxicated (DWI) refers driving while drunk. 

The first one, which is “driving under the influence” or simply DUI, is the charge that is typically associated with driving while high or after taking too much drugs, whether prescribed or not. Most instances revolve around the driver taking too much pain pills which causes them to drive poorly. We also see many cases when the driver is arrested for appearing to be under the influence of marijuana. However, it can also be applied to some drivers who are under the influence of drugs or certain medications. More and more states are now using phrases such as “operating a vehicle”, being in “top of form”, “bottom of form” or “physical control of the vehicle”, in order to broaden the situations, in which one may be convicted of a DUI, such as sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition, even if the car itself is not moving.

On the other hand, DWI can actually stand for “driving while intoxicated” or “driving while impaired.” This term was very often used interchangeably with DUI since there are several similarities between the two terms. The drivers who are charged with DWI often fail a breath test, with results that are above the legal limit of .08. However, the drivers charged with DWI exhibit other indications of impairment, such as failing a field sobriety test, slurred speech, poor balance and/or driving erratically.

Which Is Worse? 

If you are arrested for a DWI in the state of Louisiana, the punishments you may face include fines, probation, jail time, community service, license suspension, or possibly more depending on how many prior DWIs a person has on their record. The penalties for DWI in Louisiana get harsher the more DWI convictions a person has.

The various categories of DWI are as follows: 

  • First Offense DWI
  • Second Offense DWI
  • Third Offense DWI
  • Fourth or Following Offense DWI

First Offense DWI

Your first DWI offense is considered a misdemeanor. You will most likely be fined between $200 to $700, depending on the situation. If jail time is given, it could be a few days to a few weeks with or without probation or for a few months, depending on the court.

Your fine and jail time may increase if your BAC level is above 0.15% or 0.20%.

Second Offense DWI

Your second offense is also considered a misdemeanor, but the consequences are a bit harsher. You could face a fine between $700 to $1,000. Jail time ranges from 1 to 6 months, with probation up to half a year and community service for 240 hours.

Special penalties are also given if your BAC level is above 0.15% or 0.20%, in which your fine and jail time could increase.

Third Offense DWI

In Louisiana, a DWI charge becomes a felony after having two prior DWI convictions within 10 years. Your third DWI offense could get you slapped with a fine of more than $2,000, along with 1 to 5 years of imprisonment. After prison, probation could be up to 5 years and community service at 240 hours.

The court may also order a substance abuse evaluation and treatment, such as rehab, and an ignition interlock device put in your vehicle to ensure you can only drive when your BAC level is below the legal limit.

Fourth or Following Offense DWI

A fourth or higher offense is also a felony on your record. These are the harshest penalties for a DWI, with fines being as high as $5,000 or more. The judge will most likely order a prison sentence of 10 to 30 years, with up to 5 years of probation and 320 hours of community service.

The court could also order a substance abuse evaluation and treatment plan if deemed necessary, as well as house arrest and an ankle monitor to track the wearer’s location.

Blood Tests in DUI and DWI Cases

Prosecutors in most states actually prosecute more heavily DWI charges than DUI charges since the breathalyzer and blood-alcohol tests results provide more concrete scientific evidence than mere field sobriety test results.  However, police officers are now blood-testing suspects more often in Louisiana.  If the driver refuses to do a blood test, the police officer may get a warrant from a judge ordering the blood test. If the suspect fights it, the police will pin him down in the hospital while a nurse tales the blood. The blood is then sent to a state lab where it is tested for alcohol and drugs. If the results show the driver/suspect had THC or any other drug or alcohol in his system, they will use those results to prosecute him.

The Right Lawyer For You 

Now that you know what a DUI vs DWI is, you’ll be able to educate yourself on your state’s laws and the consequences that come with these acronyms. The only way to avoid the consequences of driving under the influence is to not drive under the influence.

If you do find yourself in trouble with the law because of impaired driving, the next step is to find the right criminal defense attorney to represent you.

We hope you found this article useful. To learn more about the driving laws and DWI penalties in Louisiana, head on over to our blog page to see how our services can benefit you.

Contact our Louisiana DUI attorneys at the Barkemeyer Law Firm if you have a DUI or DWI arrest in Louisiana.  We defend clients for these charges all throughout the state.

Carl Barkemeyer wrote the published book on DWI: Practical Information for the Accused and Attorneys in Louisiana. He regularly gives lectures and advice to other attorneys regarding how to successfully defend clients for DWI.

Louisiana DWI & Criminal Lawyers

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Louisiana criminal lawyers and DWI attorneys at the Barkemeyer Law Firm providing legal defense services for clients in Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Port Allen, Alexandria, New Orleans, Lafayette, Metairie, Kenner, Gretna, Hahnville, Chalmette, Slidell, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John, St. Bernard, Mandeville, Covington, Shreveport, Bossier, Jefferson, Monroe, Lake Charles and all of Louisiana.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not formal legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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