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DUI vs DWAI: What Are the Legal Differences?

The terms DUI vs. DWAI are often lumped together as being the same thing. With driving under the influence and driving while ability impaired sounding like similar concepts, it’s easy to understand why someone could make the assumption they are the same.

For many people it would seem knowing the difference between the two isn’t something that ever comes up as need-to-know information. However, if you find yourself in a situation where understanding the difference is necessary it’s good to have some general knowledge.

Keep reading to learn more:

The Basics of DUI versus DWAI

The charges of driving under the influence and driving while ability impaired involve operating a motor vehicle when the individual is less able to safely operate a motor vehicle based on the use of alcohol or drugs or a combination of both. The definition of motor vehicle not only includes a car or truck, it also includes motorcycles, tractors and other off road vehicles such as ATVs.

In addition to the act of driving, the courts have also found being in control of a motor vehicle is enough to justify charges for DUI or DWAI. Control of a motor vehicle can occur when a person is seated in the driver’s seat with the keys located inside the vehicle. Note the keys don’t have to be in the ignition. So if an individual is intoxicated and wants to sleep awhile to sober up, do this in the back seat of the vehicle, not the driver’s seat.

Finally, you do not have to be on a street or highway to get a DUI or DWAI. The law applies to all public and private property. Thus having a few beers and working on your car in the driveway can cause you a problem.

What Are the Differences Between DUI and DWAI?

The difference between DUI and DWAI are based on the intoxication level. The following explains.

DUI:

DUI is the more serious charge. All states have a similar charge, whether called DUI or DWI. If an individual operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08 or above, there is an inference the individual is driving under the influence of alcohol. In Colorado, the legal definition of DUI means driving a motor vehicle or vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs, that affects the person to a degree that the person is substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.

Based on the definition, DUI is not limited to alcohol impairment. Illegal drugs, marijuanamedical marijuana, prescription medication and even over the counter medications can cause the impairment resulting in a DUI charge.

DWAI:

DWAI is the less serious of the two charges. Not all states have this specific charge. In Colorado there is an inference the individual is driving while ability impaired if he has a BAC of .051 to .079. The legal definition of DWAI means driving a motor vehicle or vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, that affects the person to the slightest degree so that the person is less able than the person ordinarily would have been, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.

Again, based on the definition, DWAI is not limited to alcohol impairment. Illegal drugs, marijuana, medical marijuana, prescription medication and even over the counter medications can cause the impairment resulting in a DWAI charge.

Exceptions

Someone who is under the legal drinking age of 21 in Colorado can be charged with Underage Drinking and Driving with a BAC of .02 to .050. If you’re underage and have been consuming any alcohol your best bet is to avoid driving altogether due to this low threshold.

Operating a commercial vehicle also brings about different rules for a DUI charge. Driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04 or higher can result in a DUI.

Consequences of Either DUI vs. DWAI

Because a DUI charge is more serious than DWAI, the consequences are more serious for a DUI than a DWAI. In general, on a first offense, the fines, useful public service and jail (which is usually suspended on a first offense) are about half for a DWAI as compared to a DUI charge. Either offense will require a drug and alcohol evaluation and completion of the recommended program. Most courts also require a Victim Impact Panel presented by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. In Colorado, jail time becomes mandatory with a BAC above .200 or on a second or subsequent offense.

DUI vs. DWAI: Just Don’t Do Get Caught Up in Either

Rather than trying your luck with the legal system, just don’t drive if you suspect your ability to safely operate a vehicle is impaired. There are so many options to get a ride with Uber, Lyft and Taxi’s.

If you find yourself in the circumstances where it’s already too late then contact us, we are here to help.

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Fort Collins, CO 80521
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