DUI Law - Drunk Driving Terminology

If you are confused by all the different terms out there that are used to refer to the crime of drunk driving, you are not alone. Many people get the abbreviations and their respective definitions mixed up.

Should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being arrested for drunk driving, you may stumble (no pun intended) to fully understand what exactly it is you are being accused of. Though the names may vary, DUI, DWI, etc., - they all have one thing in common...trouble. The first step in planning your defense is to research your local laws as much as possible. Knowledge is power, and the more you know the better prepared you will be.


Listed below are the names and definitions of terms used to refer to the crime of driving under the influence. Be sure to double check your applicable statutes, because in addition to the names differing among states, the elements defining the offense vary as well. And always remember to consult with an attorney for a better understanding of how your local laws relate to the specific facts of your case.


The most commonly used abbreviation for the offense of drunk driving is "DUI" (Driving Under the Influence). The elements defining the crime vary from state to state, and can be found by checking your local statutes. You'll hear the term DUI used in the following jurisdictions:

Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.


The second most commonly used abbreviation has two possible definitions. Whether it's called Driving While Impaired or Driving While Intoxicated, the following states use the term DWI:

Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and North Carolina.


Operating Under the Influence. (Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island).


Operating While Intoxicated/Impaired. (Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin).


Operating a Motor Vehicle while Intoxicated. Sometimes used in Ohio, though most often the offenses are referred to as "OVI" (see below).


Operating a Vehicle (while) Impaired. Ohio's official catchall term for any offense related to drunk driving.


Operating a Vessel While Intoxicated. (Indiana and New Jersey).


BUI (Boating Under the Influence) makes it illegal to operate any kind of water vessel while impaired. From canoes to cruise ships, the punishments are as similar and as severe as a regular DUI. Every state has laws regulating the operation of boats while under the influence of alcohol. Check your local BUI statutes for more specific information.


DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired), is a less severe offense that punishes driving under the influence at lower levels of impairment. While it carries a less severe punishment as a regular DUI, it's consequences have the potential of being equally as harmful to your record and reputation. (Colorado and New York).


Driving While Under the Influence. While the name and acronym are unique and only used in Wyoming, the statute itself is similar to other states' DUI laws.


DUBAL (Driving With an Unlawful Blood Alcohol Level) and UBAL (Unlawful Blood Alcohol Level) are also referred to as "Per se DUI". They have been enacted in some form in all 50 states, and criminalize driving with a certain amount of alcohol or BAC level without requiring proof of impairment.


Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants is a term exclusively used to criminalize drunk driving and similar offenses in Oregon.

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