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DUI vs. DWI vs. DWAI: What’s the Difference?

DUI, DWI & DWAI in New York: What’s the Difference?

New York law makes several distinctions between different types of DUI-related charges, including DWI, DWAI, and DUIs. But what do these terms mean, and what are the differences between them? This article will show you the nuances between each offense, the different legal penalties involved for each in NYS, and the best way victims and the wrongly-accused can defend themselves in court.

DWI vs. DWAI vs. DUI: Differences & Similarities

While the terms DUI and DWI may seem interchangeable based on the way they’re used in the media and in everyday life, certain states maintain that there are very distinct differences between the two. 

DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated,” and is mostly incorporated in cases specifically related to those who drive while impaired by alcohol. The blood alcohol content (BAC) of a driver with a DWI must be at least 0.08% — the legal limit of driving while intoxicated in New York. 

DWAI, which stands for “driving while ability impaired,” is a term used in cases where the BAC of a driver is under the legal limit of 0.08%, but the driver was still found impaired by drugs and/or alcohol “to any extent.” DWAIs are typically less serious offenses than DWIs, unless a combination of drugs and alcohol were used, leading to severe impairment. They may also become bigger offenses than DWIs if a person was killed or injured in an accident, or significant damages resulted as a result of the driver’s impairment. 

DUI, on the other hand, stands for “driving under the influence.” This term is broad enough to encompass any case where the driver is impaired by not only alcohol, but any other mind-altering substance, including marijuana, heroine, and even some prescription drugs including oxycodone and hydrocodone. Both DWIs and DWAIs can be classified as types of DUIs. In this way, New York treats DUI as an umbrella term that houses different types of driving while impaired.

It is important to note that you can get any kind of DUI without driving your vehicle. If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and you turn on your engine without the intention of driving, you are still liable for a DUI.

All of these charges are serious offenses, and result in fines, jail time, and often license revocation in varying degrees of intensity. 

New York Penalties for DWI and DWAI Charges 

New York issues different penalties for individual DWIs and DWAI cases based on the severity of the crime, and the frequency in which the crime was committed.

Receiving a DUI or DWI conviction in New York will lead to harsh penalties, including revocation of your license, and jail time. But what are the differences between the penalties issued for DUI and DWI?

NY Penalties for Driving While Intoxicated 

  • First Offense: mandatory fine between $500 and $1000, no minimum jail time required, license revoked for at least six months 
  • Second Offense: Either five days in jail time, or 30 days of community service required, if prior DWI occurred within the past 5 years
  • Third Offense: Either 10 days in jail, or 60 days of community service required if the two prior DWIs occurred within the past 5 years

NY Penalties for Driving While Ability Impaired

Generally, the penalties for less-severe cases of DWAIs—in which only BACs of less than 0.08% are involved—are lesser variations of DWI charges. The specifics of these penalties can only be determined on a case-by-case basis after negotiating in court. However, New York does have specific charges in place for DWAIs that involve a combination of both drugs and alcohol, and repeat offenses. In these cases, penalties can be more severe than first-offense DWIs.

  • First Offense: Driving While Ability Impaired by a Combination of Alcohol/Drugs – mandatory fine between $500 and $1000, jail time up to one year, license revoked for at least six months
  • Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated – mandatory fine between $1000 and $2500, jail time up to one year, driver’s license revoked for at least one year
  • Second DWAI Violation in Five Years – mandatory fine between $500 and $750, jail time up to 30 days, license revoked for at least six months
  • Chemical Test Refusal – mandatory $500 civil penalty, license revoked for at least one year or 18 months for commercial drivers
  • Greater penalties can apply for multiple alcohol or drug violations within a 25 year period
  • Three or more alcohol or drug related convictions or refusals within 10 years may result in permanent license revocation

DWAI vs. DUI/DWI Laws in New York

DWAI offenses are notable because the charges can be customized according to what manner of intoxication you were under at the time of your arrest. For instance, you might be charged with DWAI-drugs if you were under the influence of drugs, DWAI-alcohol if you were driving under the influence of alcohol, and so on.

In New York, DWAI charges are usually less severe than DWI charges. This is because a lower blood alcohol content is required for a DWAI charge. Convictions for a DWAI charge typically involve penalties such as a fine of up to $1000, jail for up to one year, three years of probation, and an automatic revocation of your driver’s license for six months at a minimum.

Furthermore, New York law allows for DWAI penalties to increase each time you get a subsequent charge. If you get enough DWAI charges, your charge may result in a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

DWI laws in New York are almost exclusively used for driving while under the influence of alcohol, although some other drug impairments can warrant this charge. It’s more serious than a DWAI offense and carries heavier penalties in most cases.

DWI penalties are similar to DWAI penalties on the lower end, although they are typically higher both in terms of fines, jail time, and license revocation periods. Furthermore, DWI offenders will be forced to install an engine interlock device in their car. This interlock device acts as a personal breathalyzer that is connected to the vehicle engine. It requires the use of the breathalyzer to ignite the engine at all; even a hint of alcohol will lock the engine. Those convicted of a DWI will be required to use this interlock device for at least one year. 

As with subsequent DWAI convictions, future DWI convictions will result in higher penalties and potential felony charges.

New York Charging Laws

New York has several laws that can make determining who to charge for a DWI or DWAI case tricky. For instance, New York is a no-fault state. This is normally used for insurance, but it can mean that some cases may result in a conclusion where “no one” is at fault.

Alternatively, parties other than the drunk driver can be held liable for an accident. This includes stores that sold the driver alcohol or adults who provide alcohol to those under the age of 21.

Which is Worse: DUI or DWI?

DUI charges and convictions are almost always worse than DWAI offenses. DWI penalties are usually much harsher and result in a greater impact on your day-to-day life. As a result, finding excellent DWI attorneys and representation is necessary if you want your charges to be dropped to a DWAI level. This is, of course, not always possible depending on the evidence available.

Regardless of which charge you receive, both are very serious and can have lasting impacts on your life and driving record. Thus, experienced defense attorneys and legal representation are necessities if you’re ever charged with either a DUI or DWAI.

Damages a Drunk Driver May Be Held Accountable For

  • Property damage
  • Personal injury
  • Pain and suffering
  • Death of loved ones
  • Injury to others
  • Endangerment of others

DUI/DWI Arrest vs. Conviction

Being arrested for a DUI or DWI is not the same thing as being convicted. An arrest happens when you’re pulled over by a police officer and are removed from your vehicle due to being too impaired to drive. You will be taken to the police station and registered with the system. After your arrest, you will either be given probation or charged with a conviction depending on the evidence available.

Your DUI/DWI conviction only occurs at the climax of your court session. You may or may not be convicted of the charges brought before a judge based on available evidence and the strength of your defense case. As a result, suitable legal defense assistance is needed by most citizens, particularly with serious cases like these.

In most incidents, it is not possible to drop DUI or DWI charges entirely due to the evidence found at most scenes. However, skilled defensive attorneys can lower your charges to a more moderate level or negotiate for lighter penalties than you might otherwise receive.

Reckless Driving vs. DUI

One of the ways a skilled attorney can drop your DWI charges is to change them to reckless driving charges. Reckless driving is not the same thing as a DUI or DWI, and it often imposes less severe punishment than the alternative. Both may result in jail time, although reckless driving offenses usually incur less time overall.

Reckless driving is understood as driving without regard for the safety of others, which may or may not have alcohol as a factor.

New York DUI/DWI Lawyers

If you’re charged with a DUI or DWI, your story matters to Sobo & Sobo. It’s often difficult to find great representation, particularly for these offenses, but their expert legal teams can help defend you against unjust charges or ensure that you aren’t unfairly represented by your opponents. Contact them today and see how they can help you with your DWI or DWAI charges in the New York area!


Phone Number: 855-468-7626

NYS Drunk Driving Statistics 

Driving under the influence is one of the most prevalent causes of car accidents in New York. Recent data from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYSDMV) shows that each year on average, there are:

  • 8,384 collisions,
  • 4,288 non-fatal injuries,
  • And 322 fatal injuries related to driving while intoxicated in New York.