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driving while intoxicated (DWI)

DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while intoxicated), and OWI (operating while intoxicated) are similar criminal offenses that involve the operation of a motor vehicle, electric vehicle, or sometimes an otherwise-powered vehicle—including boats, aircraft, and bicycles—by an operator who is under the influence of or intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. Per se (pronounced purr-say) intoxication is intoxication by definition—as defined in the state’s statutes by blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more (.05 in Utah). And even if a person is not per se intoxicated, they may be intoxicated by not having the normal use of their mental or physical faculties (abilities), for example, and may be charged with a criminal offense.

In some contexts the terms DUI and DWI are used interchangeably, with some states using one term and other states using the other term to define what is essentially the same criminal offense. But in some states both criminal charges are available and there is a legal distinction between them.

For example, in some states with both criminal offenses, DUI is the criminal offense of operating a vehicle under the influence of prescription or recreational drugs, and DWI is the offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol. In some states DWI refers to per se intoxication when the driver’s BAC is above the threshold defined by statute—.08 (.05 in Utah)—and DUI is a criminal offense charged when the police officer believes the driver is under the influence of alcohol, despite the driver’s BAC being below the statutory threshold of .08. And in some states DUI is a separate offense for drivers under the legal age of drinking (21) who have some alcohol in their system, but less than a .08 BAC.

These and other similar alcohol-related operating offenses—including aggravated or enhanced forms of these offenses—vary from state to state in their definitions and potential punishments and are generally located in a state’s statutes—often in the penal code or criminal code.

In Texas, the terms DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) represent different offenses. Texas law primarily uses the term DWI, which is defined as operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, which means not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. A DUI charge in Texas is specific to individuals under the age of 21 who operate a motor vehicle in a public place with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system, reflecting Texas's zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. The state does not use the term OWI. Penalties for DWI in Texas can include fines, jail time, driver's license suspension, and the installation of an ignition interlock device, among others. The severity of the punishment can increase with higher BAC levels, prior offenses, and if aggravating factors are present, such as causing an accident with injury or death.

Texas Statutes & Rules

Federal Statutes & Rules

23 U.S.C. § 164 - Minimum penalties for repeat offenders for driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence
This federal statute provides for mandatory minimum penalties that states must enforce for repeat offenders of DUI, DWI, or OWI to avoid certain federal funding penalties.

Under 23 U.S.C. § 164, states are required to enact and enforce laws that provide minimum penalties for individuals who have been convicted of multiple DUI, DWI, or OWI offenses. The statute mandates that repeat offenders must receive a minimum penalty that includes an assessment of the individual's degree of alcohol abuse and treatment as necessary, as well as a suspension or revocation of the individual's driver's license. States that fail to comply with these requirements are subject to a transfer of a portion of federal highway funds to the state's alcohol-impaired driving countermeasures or to state highway safety improvement programs.

23 U.S.C. § 163 - Safety incentives to prevent operation of motor vehicles by intoxicated persons
This statute provides incentives for states to adopt and implement effective measures to reduce traffic safety problems resulting from individuals driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

23 U.S.C. § 163 establishes a grant program to encourage states to adopt and implement programs aimed at preventing individuals from operating motor vehicles while intoxicated. The statute outlines specific criteria that states must meet to qualify for these grants, such as having a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration limit for DUI offenses, implementing open container laws, and conducting high-visibility enforcement efforts. States that meet these criteria are eligible for additional federal funding to support their efforts in reducing DUI, DWI, and OWI incidents.

49 U.S.C. § 31310 - Disqualifications
This statute outlines the disqualification regulations for commercial driver's license (CDL) holders who commit DUI, DWI, or OWI offenses, including the operation of non-commercial vehicles.

49 U.S.C. § 31310 sets forth the disqualification requirements for CDL holders who are convicted of DUI, DWI, or OWI offenses. The statute specifies that individuals who operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) with a blood alcohol concentration of .04 percent or higher, or who refuse to undergo a blood alcohol test, are subject to disqualification. Additionally, CDL holders are subject to disqualification if they are convicted of DUI, DWI, or OWI in a non-CMV if their blood alcohol concentration is .08 percent or higher. The disqualification periods vary based on whether it is a first or subsequent offense and can include lifetime disqualification for certain repeat offenses.

49 C.F.R. Part 382 - Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing
This regulation establishes the testing requirements for commercial motor vehicle operators to prevent the operation of CMVs by drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

49 C.F.R. Part 382 mandates that employers must implement alcohol and controlled substances testing programs for commercial drivers. The regulation requires pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, return-to-duty, and follow-up testing for alcohol and controlled substances. The goal is to ensure that CMV operators are not under the influence while driving, thereby increasing road safety. The regulation also outlines the procedures for testing and the consequences for drivers who test positive or refuse to undergo testing.