What is a DUI?

If you’ve been wondering what a DUI is compared to a DWI, the answer is that they are extremely similar. However, each state handles DUI charges differently. The severity of the offense plus DUI consequences depend on your state, but you can expect fees, possible jail time, higher insurance rates, and the possible loss of your license.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: May 26, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • DUI stands for driving under the influence, and might be the same as a DWI (driving while impaired), depending on your state
  • The consequences of a DUI vary by state, but generally include fees, jail time, and license suspension
  • Having a DUI on your record can increase your car insurance price by upwards of 74 percent

Of all the traffic violations a driver can be convicted of, a DUI is just about the worst. DUI stands for “driving under the influence” of drugs or alcohol.

DUIs are closely related to DWIs, or may even be interchangeable, depending on the state. Regardless, a DUI is a serious offense that can take over your life. Drivers with a DUI on their record face hefty fines, license suspension, and even jail time. They’ll probably need to find special DUI insurance to drive again, as well.

So, what is a DUI exactly, and what do you do if you get one? If you already have a DUI on record and need insurance, your best bet is to get quotes from as many companies as possible. Enter your ZIP code into our free tool to see what quotes might look like for you.

What is a DUI charge?

At its heart, a DUI charge means you were caught endangering yourself and others by driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. DUIs are a serious problem. In 2019, 10,142 people lost their lives to DUI. However, there is some good news.

Through concentrated efforts by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and programs like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), DUIs in America are at an all-time low. Still, DUIs and DWIs plague America’s roads.

While DUI consequences vary, each state defines the offense in the same way: a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.

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What is blood alcohol content?

In simple terms, BAC measures how much alcohol is in your bloodstream. This number is used to legally define your level of intoxication. Your BAC is the number of grams of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood. You’re legally considered intoxicated at a BAC of 0.08, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel drunk.

People experience drunkenness differently based on their tolerance and body, so it’s essential to know how many drinks will get you to a 0.08 BAC. If a cop pulls you over and finds you at the legal limit, they won’t care if you say you don’t feel drunk.

A standard drink adds around 0.02 to your BAC, meaning you’ll be legally drunk after four drinks. A standard drink includes:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 5 ounces of liquor

There are a lot of myths out there about how to sober up quickly, including coffee, cold showers, or sports drinks. However, there is only one way alcohol leaves your body: time. For every hour that passes, your BAC drops by about 0.015. That means that your body needs over an hour to process every alcoholic beverage you drink.

Which is worse: DUI or DWI?

Although they mean different things (DWI stands for driving while impaired), they’re equally as bad. The main difference between DUI vs. DWI depends on your state. Some states don’t differentiate between the two, while others do.

For states that define them differently, a DWI is usually reserved for drug charges. In states with separate charges for DWI and DUI, DWI is usually the worst of the two. Some states allow first-time offenders to lower their DWI charges to a DUI. Others, like Texas, have zero-tolerance and charge anyone over 21 with a DWI.

Other states use DUI to refer to reckless drivers under 0.08 BAC, and reserve DWI for drivers over the legal limit.

What are the consequences of a DUI?

The most common reason people get arrested is because of DUI. DUIs aren’t like regular traffic citations, like speeding tickets or failures to stop. A DUI can stay with you for years and affect several aspects of your life, including:

  • Driver’s license suspension. You can lose your license over a DUI, sometimes on your first offense, for up to two years. That leaves you without your own transportation for work, school, errands, and other responsibilities.
  • Employment. If your job requires you to drive and you lose your license, you won’t be able to work. Additionally, most driving jobs have rules in place about DUIs, even if you don’t lose your license.
  • Background checks. A felony or misdemeanor DUI will show up in your background. It’s not just employers that do background checks – apartments, college financial aid applications, and school admissions also conduct these kinds of reviews.
  • Insurance rates. Getting a DUI automatically makes you a high-risk driver, and you’ll pay for it when it comes to insurance. In fact, some companies will terminate your coverage altogether. You can at least expect your rates to double or triple for several years.

Additionally, you’ll have a DUI on your driving record. Some states will remove DUIs from your history after a few years, while others are there for the rest of your life.

Alabama5 yearsHawaii5 yearsMassachusetts10 yearsNew Mexico55 yearsSouth Dakota10 years
AlaskaLifeIdahoLifeMichigan7 yearsNew York15 yearsTennesseeLife
Arizona5 yearsIllinoisLifeMinnesota10 yearsNorth Carolina7 yearsTexasLife
Arkansas5 yearsIndianaLifeMississippi5 yearsNorth Dakota7 yearsUtah10 years
California10 yearsIowa12 yearsMissouri10 yearsOhioLifeVermontLife
Colorado10 yearsKansasLifeMontana5 yearsOklahoma10 yearsVirginia11 years
Connecticut10 yearsKentucky5 yearsNebraska12 yearsOregonLifeWashington15 years
Delaware5 yearsLouisiana10 yearsNevada7 yearsPennsylvania10 yearsWest Virginia10 years
Florida75 yearsMaineLifeNew Hampshire10 yearsRhode Island5 yearsWisconsin10 years
Georgia10 yearsMaryland5 yearsNew Jersey10 yearsSouth Carolina10 yearsWyoming10 years
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Once a DUI falls off your record (if it does), you’ll probably be eligible for lower insurance rates and it will stop appearing on background checks.

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What is a DUI resulting in death called?

The worst-case scenario for a DUI involves the death of an innocent person. Unfortunately, thousands of families are affected by this tragedy every year.

The penalty for accidentally killing someone during a DUI varies by state. Some states, such as California, might consider it a DUI murder. Others, like Arizona, don’t have specific rules in place.

In most states, accidental death is usually charged as either manslaughter, second-degree homicide, or criminally negligent homicide. Each state punishes accidental death differently:

Alabama1 to 10 yearsHawaii0 to 10 yearsMassachusetts30 days to 15 yearsNew Mexico0 to 6 yearsSouth Dakota0 to 15 years
Alaska1 to 99 yearsIdaho0 to 15 yearsMichigan0 to 20 yearsNew York0 to 15 yearsTennessee8 to 60 years
Arizona1 to 22 yearsIllinois1 to 28 yearsMinnesota0 to 10 yearsNorth Carolina15 to 480 monthsTexas2 to 20 years
Arkansas5 to 20 yearsIndiana2 to 20 yearsMississippi5 to 25 yearsNorth Dakota0 to lifeUtah0 to 15 years
California0 to 10 yearsIowa1 to 25 yearsMissouri0 to 15 yearsOhio1 to 15 yearsVermont1 to 15 years
Colorado0 to 24 yearsKansas0 to 172 monthsMontana0 to 30 yearsOklahoma0 to 1 yearVirginia1 to 20 years
Connecticut1 to 10 yearsKentucky0 to 10 yearsNebraska1 to 50 yearsOregon0 to 20 yearsWashington31 to 177 months
Delaware1 to 5 yearsLouisiana3 to 30 yearsNevada2 to 25 yearsPennsylvania0 to 10 yearsWest Virginia90 days to 10 years
Florida0 to 15 yearsMaine6 months to 10 yearsNew Hampshire0 to 15 yearsRhode Island5 to 20 yearsWisconsin0 to 40 years
Georgia0 to 15 yearsMaryland0 to 5 yearsNew Jersey5 to 10 yearsSouth Carolina1 to 25 yearsWyoming0 to 20 years
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While some states have extremely harsh sentences, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will receive the harshest penalty. A judge will consider the circumstances of a DUI arrest and decide what they feel is suitable for that specific case.

How much does your insurance go up after a DUI?

On average, insurance prices go up by a staggering 74 percent after a DUI. That’s more than a speeding ticket and accident combined for your insurance.

Consider the average monthly price of some of the biggest car insurance providers in the country before and after getting a DUI:

CompanyAverage monthly priceAverage monthly price after DUI
State Farm$116$161
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Obviously, your best option is to not get a DUI. However, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a DUI, talk to your agent to see if they can help you save money.

How to Find the Right Insurance After a DUI

Getting a DUI is incredibly stressful and potentially embarrassing. Of all the things you’ll need to take care, one of the last things you’ll want to stress over is insurance.

To save money, you should shop around for quotes with as many companies as you can. Even if your current provider is willing to keep you as a customer, it might be cheaper to go elsewhere.

If you’ve answered, “What is a DUI?” the hard way, you can enter your ZIP code into our free tool to see what car insurance quotes might look like for you.

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