DUI / DWI / OUI / OWI Explained

General DUI Terms

What does DUI mean? What is an OWI? What is the difference between OWI vs DUI? Drunk driving is the most common crime in America. Like all legal matters, certain terminology and legal definitions can be confusing to our clients. While not comprehensive, this list covers most of the more commonly used DUI words, terms or phrases of DUI law, including OWI and DWI. OWI stands for “Operating While Intoxicated.”

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This generally is interpreted as an abbreviation for driving under the influence.  By far, the most common impairing substance is alcohol.  However, many states also prohibit DUI Drugs, an impaired driving charge that has risen sharply due to more drivers combining alcohol and prescriptions.


The next most common acronym is DWI.  Depending on the state practice, this can be interpreted as an abbreviation for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired.  Like DUI, many states proscribe impaired (or “intoxicated”) driving as caused by other impairing substances, drugs, plants or chemical compounds.


The next most common acronym for drunk driving is OUI.  This stands for “operating under the influence.”  The word “operating” is actually more encompassing (and more accurate) than “driving” because almost all states make it illegal to “operate or be in actual physical control” of a motor vehicle.  This means that you can be sitting in your car, off the side of the road, with the engine running and the car in park, and asleep, yet still be charged with OUI (or DUI or DWI, for that matter, in most states).  The states that have OUI as their acronym are Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.


Another acronym for drunk driving is OWI, or operating while intoxicated.  Similar to OUI, the operative word is “operating”.  Wisconsin OWI, Iowa OWI, Michigan OWI, and Indiana OWI laws change each year.


OMVI (operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated) is an acronym used in Ohio from time to time, but they also use DUI.


DUIL (driving under the influence of liquor) is used in a few states in case law.


Oregon uses DUII (driving under the influence of an intoxicant).


In two states, Colorado and New York, the acronym “DWAI” (driving while ability impaired) is a LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE to DWI (or DUI).  These “lesser offenses” offer the person less damage to their driver’s license, and have certain benefits over pleading to the standard DUI / DWI offense.


One state, Wyoming, uses DWUI (driving while under the influence).


Finally, two other acronyms crop up in cases occasionally.  DUBAL or UBAL is a type of DUI / DWI that signifies driving with an unlawful blood alcohol level.  This applies only to cases in which the person arrested has given a blood, breath or urine sample.  Officers or court cases (or your attorney) may call this “per se” DUI or “per se” DWI.  In short this means it is an offense to merely have driven while having the prohibited amount of alcohol in your system regardless of whether the police officer gathers any traditional police evidence of “impairment”.


Same as DUBAL.

Open Container

The offense of having an open container of alcohol inside your passenger compartment, for example, an open bottle of beer or an open pint of vodka.