What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI?

Every driver in California has likely heard the terms “DUI” and “DWI” around and understood that they refer to criminal prohibitions against intoxicated driving. And most people understand that DUI stands for “driving under the influence” while DWI stands for “driving while intoxicated.”

Drunk driving laws are set by states, and some states might use DUI while another uses DWI, and some states even use both terms. But, with regard to California, what is the difference between a DUI and a DWI?

California’s Intoxicated Driving Laws Explained

California’s prohibitions against intoxicated driving are laid out in California’s Vehicle Code Section 23152-23229.1. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the acronyms “DUI” and “DWI” are not mentioned anywhere in the code, although the term “driving under the influence” is mentioned in one spot. Thus, you can understand “DUI” and “DWI” as general laymen terms that apply to all of California’s intoxicated driving laws. The term DUI is more often used than DWI in California, but if a police officer pulls you over and arrests you for a DUI or DWI, you should understand that these terms can be used interchangeably to refer to California’s intoxicated driving laws.

Which raises the question: what exactly are California’s intoxicated driving laws? There are five main ways to run afoul of California’s intoxicated driving laws, and they are as follows:

  • BAC of .08% or Higher: This is probably the law with which most people are familiar. It is against the law to drive a vehicle if your blood alcohol level (BAC) is .08% or higher. This is typically measured by a breathalyzer or blood test. If you test positive for a .08% or higher BAC level at any point within three hours after driving the car, the law will presume that you had that BAC while operating the car, although you can present evidence to disprove this presumption.
  • Commercial Driving with BAC of .04% or Higher: If you drive a commercial vehicle, such as a commercial truck or other vehicle requiring a CA commercial driver’s license, the threshold for a drunk driving charge is a .04% BAC.
  • “Under the Influence of Any Alcoholic Beverage”: Some people may assume that if they are not at a BAC of .08% or higher, then they are in the clear, even if they are feeling the effects of alcohol. This is not the case. California law states that, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.” So, if you are a person with a low tolerance for alcohol, and are driving erratically due to alcohol despite having a lower than .08% BAC, then a police officer can arrest you for drunk driving. It will be up to the defendant to argue that his or her driving was not due to the influence of alcohol.
  • “Under the Influence of Any Drug”: The police may also arrest a California driver for driving when evidence suggests the influence “of any drug.” Note that the law does not make a distinction between legal and illegal drugs. Again, the driver would argue that he or she was not under the influence of a drug when stopped.
  • “Addicted to the Use of Any Drug”: Finally, California law says that any person “addicted to the use of any drug” may not operate a vehicle, even if they are not under the influence of the drug at the time. The law makes an exception for drivers participating in approved narcotics treatment programs.

Get Professional Help in Your DUI/DWI Defense

If you have been arrested for intoxicated driving in California, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help protect your rights and your freedom. Contact criminal defense attorney Omar Gastelum today at 562-372-6868.