DUI vs DWI: What’s the Difference in North Carolina?


The acronyms DUI and DWI are spoken of frequently, but what exactly are the distinctions between the two? You may be surprised to learn that each state has its own definition of each term. Some states use Driving Under the Influence (DUI) to refer to the crime of drunk driving, while others use Driving While Impaired (DWI). Still, other states use both, but each refers to a different type of drunk driving crime. In North Carolina, however, the law does not differentiate between DUI and DWI. They are considered the same impaired driving crime.

Before the Safe Roads Act of 1983, DUI and DWI were separate, but the act condensed the two into only DWI. The act simplified N.C.’s previous drunk and drugged driving laws by replacing them with a single offense, Driving While Impaired. The legal system in N.C. uses DWI as the official acronym. Being convicted of a DWI means the driver operated a motor vehicle while impaired by an impairing substance.

If you are looking to become more informed of the DWI laws in North Carolina, our Raleigh DWI defense attorney is here to help.

What is Driving While Impaired?

When considering DWI charges, it’s not necessary for the impairing substance to be alcohol even though some of the terms used in this context, such as “Driving While Intoxicated,” “Operating While Intoxicated,” and “Drunk Driving,” would indicate alcohol was involved. It is possible to get charged with DWI due to any impairing substance, which includes but is not limited to marijuana, cocaine, and prescription and/or over-the-counter medications.

Many legal drugs can cause drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, and other side effects that impact a driver’s ability to drive safely. The term “Driving While Impaired” includes all substances that a person may consume that can impair the ability to drive. A driver in N.C. is at risk of receiving a DWI charge if driving after taking any type of impairing drug or using an intoxicating substance.

What Terms are Used Interchangeably with DUI or DWI?

  • Driving While Impaired (DWI)
  • Driving While Intoxicated
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
  • Operating a Motor Vehicle Impaired (OMVI)
  • Operating a Vehicle Impaired (OVI)
  • Operating While Impaired (OWI)
  • Operating Under the Influence (OUI)
  • Drunk Driving
  • Drugged Driving

What is “Drunk Driving”?

The most common reason officers issue DWI charges in N.C. is drunk driving. Drunk driving refers to operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher for drivers 21 and older, 0.04% for commercial drivers or prior DWI recipients, or any alcohol concentration for drivers under the age of 21. Drunk driving is a serious crime that can lead to a permanent criminal record, jail time, and hefty fines.

What are the Penalties for a DWI Conviction in North Carolina?

The penalties for DWI in North Carolina can be severe. DWI penalties depend on the driver’s blood alcohol level (BAC) at the time of the arrest, the number of prior offenses, the driver’s license classification, and the age of the driver.

Some of the types of consequences for driving under the influence include:

  • Suspension of the driver’s license
  • Thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees
  • Possibility of time in jail
  • Community service requirements
  • Enrollment in alcohol or substance abuse education courses
  • Higher car insurance premiums
  • Additional penalties from the Department of Transportation

What are the Consequences for Refusing a BAC Test?

Refusing to take a chemical BAC test at the time of the traffic stop will result in the automatic suspension of your driver’s license for a period of one year.

You will lose your right to drive for:

  • One year after receiving your first DWI conviction,
  • Four years after a second conviction, and
  • Permanently if you have three or more DWIs.

When the driver injures someone while driving impaired, it is considered to be an “aggravated DWI” and is extremely serious. The penalties for aggravated DWI are up to $10,000 in fines, license suspension for 30 days, 12 to 36 months in jail, and monitored sobriety for four months after release.

How Can a DWI Lawyer Help with Your DWI Charges?

North Carolina is a Zero Tolerance state and has severe punishments for DWI convictions. A “zero-tolerance” policy is one that imposes a punishment for every infraction of a stated rule and forbids people in positions of authority from exercising discretion to fit the circumstances subjectively. They are required to impose a predetermined punishment regardless of individual culpability, extenuating circumstances, or history.

A DWI lawyer can provide valuable assistance and support if you are facing DWI charges. They can help you navigate the legal system, protect your rights, and work to achieve the best possible outcome for your case.

Here are some of the many ways you can benefit from hiring an experienced DWI attorney in North Carolina:

  • Legal knowledge and expertise
  • Explanation of the charges
  • Gathering evidence
  • Negotiating plea deals
  • Defending you in court
  • Protecting your rights

Contact Our Raleigh DWI Defense Attorney Today

A DWI conviction can change your life. Not only can you lose your driving privileges, but you could lose your job and your rights. When you are facing a DWI charge, the next step is contacting an experienced DWI attorney in Wake County. Quickly taking action by contacting a criminal defense lawyer at the beginning of your arrest can help your case.

Contact us today by calling (919) 239-8448 as soon as possible to schedule a free consultation or by filling out our contact form below.

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