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What's the Difference Between DUI and OWI?

What's the Difference Between DUI and OWI?

Receiving a ticket can be frustrating, especially if you're unsure of what to do next. It can be even worse if you don't understand what your ticket means. If you thought you were ticketed for an OWI but then a DWUI showed up, don't panic. Intoxalock has answers and explains the difference between DUI vs OWI.

DUI vs. OWI: The Difference Explained

DUI is the most common way to refer to a drunk driving ticket and it’s also the phrase most often used in the movies. But the truth is, different states use different acronyms to mean the same thing.  This often confuses first time offenders, leaving them wondering “is a DUI or OWI worse”, with many believing that the different acronyms mean different degrees of trouble. Turns out the name of your offense just shows where you live. 

You can use this nifty chart to find your state’s alcohol offender acronym of choice. ➜


If you call California home, you’ll likely receive a DUI for “Driving Under the Influence.”

If you’re a native of Iowa, “Operating While Intoxicated” will get you a big fat OWI.

You can also be charged with an OUI for “Operating Under the Influence,” which is common in southern states like Alabama and Mississippi.

In certain Colorado counties you’ll be charged with a DWAI for “Driving While Alcohol Impaired.” But rest assured that these are all the same charge, legally speaking.


For some reason, different phrases stuck in different places, though they all have the same definition. Operating a motor vehicle over the legal BAC limit is a major offense and if you’re ticketed you will likely be required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your car. DUI or OWI checkpoints have even become more popular as states take an active role in keeping drunk drivers off the road. 

And it doesn’t stop there.


Every state in America has made it illegal to operate a boat while under the influence.

In fact, BUI is the one acronym everyone could agree on. But there's a chance you were written up for a DUI even though you were charged while boating. That's because boating while drunk can still cost you your driver's license. Operating anything while under the influence of alcohol is considered bad judgement. 


It’s important to understand difference between DUI and OWI because these offenses have real consequences. Not just for you, but for other drivers (or boaters). Find your state’s drunk driving offender laws now

If you are required to install an ignition interlock device (IID), you can download and complete the IID Program Application Form below to begin the ignition interlock installation process.

Complete IID Application Form

To request more information about an Intoxalock ignition interlock device, call our state specialists at (833) 623-0200.

Category: Drunk Driving

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