Whiskey with car keys and handcuffs concept for drinking and driving

What Is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?

What started out as an innocent get together with friends has quickly turned sour. You find yourself standing on the side of the road with police and flashing lights. You know this is not going to turn out well because maybe you had more than one drink.

You are being charged and you know it. Rumbling through your head are DUI and DWI. But what’s the difference between a DUI and a DWI? 

Drunk driving in Texas is not tolerated and for good reason. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the NHTSA, every 50 minutes someone dies because of drunk driving. Some 10,000 people each year die from drunk driving. 

Thankfully, you are still alive, but what about those charges. Read on to learn the difference between a DUI and DWI charge.

Understanding the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI

In many places around the country, the initials DUI and DWI mean the same thing. DUI or driving under the influence and DWI or driving while impaired means the same thing. 

So, if you get pulled over and charged your DUI or DWI charge are the same thing. This is not true in the state of Texas. Texas is what’s called a zero-tolerance state. So, any alcohol in your system means you’re going to get charged. 

Whether you’re charged with a DUI or DWI depends not on the amount of alcohol you have in your system, it depends on your age. 

What Is a DUI in Texas?

A DUI in Texas stands for driving under the influence. If you are a minor and any level of alcohol is in your system and you are operating a motor vehicle, you can get charged with a DUI. The DUI charge’s considered a  Class C misdemeanor. This is directly related to the age of the person getting charged. 

If you are over the age of 21, you’re charged with a DWI. Having said that, a person under 21 can also jump to a DWI charge instead of a DUI charge if they have a higher BAC (blood alcohol content) level. 

What Is a DWI in Texas?

A DWI charge in Texas can become much more serious. DWI or driving while impaired is part of the Texas Penal Code Section 49.04. If you are driving under the influence and over the age of 21, you will be charged with a DWI. Remember, Texas is a zero-tolerance state. 

Under the influence means::

  • Alcohol consumption
  • A controlled substance, or
  • By having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more

If you are over the age of 21, pulled over, and fall under one of these areas, you should expect to get charged with a DWI.

What Is an Aggravated DWI in Texas?

In Texas, if you’re charged with a DWI, it must be shown that you had at least a BAC of 0.08% or more. There are situations where you’re charged with an aggravated DWI. What is aggravated DWI?

An aggravated DWI is a DWI charge that’s amplified because there are special circumstances connected to the DWI charge. Some of the circumstances might include:

  • BAC of 0.15% or higher
  • Prior DWI conviction
  • An open container of alcohol
  • Child in your car at the time you’re pulled over for drunk driving
  • Causing an accident while driving drunk that results in serious injury or death

For these reasons, an aggravated DWI charge is much more serious and carries with it harsher penalties. More on this later.

How Is a DUI and a DWI Different?

While in many states around the US the terms DUI and DWI are used interchangeably, this is not true in Texas. The most common difference is the age of the person charged. 

DUI charges are for those under the influence and under the age of 21. DWI charges are for those over the age of 21 and under the influence. Remember though someone who is under the age of 21 can get charged with a more serious DWI charge. 

Having a higher BAC level, if they cause injury or death because of the alcohol, or if it’s not their first offense are all reasons a person under 21 might have a charge elevated to a DWI or an aggravated DWI charge. 

Penalties for DWI and Aggravated DWI

If you are charged with a DWI in Texas and it’s your first offense, it’s considered a Class B misdemeanor. The consequences for this include fines of up to $2,000. You can also lose your license for up to one year. Finally, you can face jail time of up to 180 days. 

If you have been charged with an aggravated DWI, the consequences will be more severe as is the charge. Some possible consequences include:

  • BAC of 0.15% or more is a Class A misdemeanor with maximum jail time of one year and a fine not to exceed $4,000
  • Second DWI conviction is a Class A misdemeanor with maximum jail time of one year and a fine not to exceed $4,000
  • Two or more prior DWI charges get a felony charge
  • Open alcohol in the car is 6 days of jail time
  • DWI charge with a minor under age 15 in the car will result in charges of up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000

Accidents that cause injury or death are treated with the most severity and will get felony charges. An injury accident is considered a third-degree felony charge with up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000. If someone dies as a result of a DWI, it’s charged as a second-degree felony with up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. 

Understanding DUI and DWI Charges

 Understanding the difference between a DUI and a DWI in Texas is important because unlike some states, the term is not used interchangeably. Whether you have been charged with a DUI, DWI, or an aggravated DWI, it is imperative that you seek legal counsel right away.

An experienced attorney can help you navigate what lies ahead with your charges. It is important to have representation to make sure your rights are protected. 

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