OVI, DUI, OWI, DWI: What’s The Difference?

Drunk driving laws are driven by each individual state. The legal limit for drinking and driving in each state is .08 blood alcohol content (BAC).  Aside from that fact, the name of the offense and other specifics in each state differ.

Police officer at DUI checkpointIf two people were arrested in two different states for driving with a .08 BAC, chances are, their charges would have different names. Below are the most common acronyms that might be heard during an arrest.

Which charge did you receive?

  • OVI = Operating a Vehicle while Intoxicated
  • OMVI = Operating a Motor Vehicle while Impaired
  • DUI = Driving Under the Influence
  • DUII = Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants
  • DUII-CS = Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants: Controlled Substances
  • OWI = Operating While Intoxicated
  • DWI = Driving While Intoxicated
  • OUI = Operating Under the Influence of intoxicating liquor
  • DWAI = Driving While Ability Impaired
  • ADWI = Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated

Essentially, the above names are all shorthand for what each state legislature has chosen to name its law.  All of the above names are different, but the charges are generally for the same type of act: being behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking alcohol and/or consuming drugs, whether or not the drugs are legal.


Some states consider DWI a more serious charge involving someone who is more intoxicated that someone with a DUI charge, while other states do not differentiate between the two charges.

Regardless of their name, the different charges in each state have similar consequences whether you are impaired by drugs, alcohol or a combination of the two. Consequences can include fines and court costs, jail time, probation, vehicle impoundment, loss of driving privileges and the installation of an ignition interlock device.