You are no doubt familiar with the terms DUI and DWI. You may not, however, fully understand how the two terms are similar and how they are different. First, "DUI" is short for "driving driving under the influence" and DWI means "driving while intoxicated."
In Texas, both a DUI and a DWI refer to an individual operating a vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, which means he or she lacks the normal use of mental or physical faculties because of the use of alcohol or a drug. "DWI" is the legal definition of this crime in Texas, although "DUI" is commonly used interchangeably.
A person 21 years of age or older can be charged with a DWI if he or she operates a vehicle while legally intoxicated (has a .08 blood or breath alcohol concentration or is impaired by drugs).
However, under Texas law, if a person under the age of 21 is pulled over and has any alcohol in his system, then he or she can be charged with a "DUI" (or "DUIA," which stands for "Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol"). This is the only officially legal use of the term "DUI" in Texas.
It is irrelevant whether the minor is impaired by the alcohol in his system. In Texas, if a driver is under 21, it is illegal to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in his system. This is due to Texas’s zero-tolerance policy.
A person under the age of 21 can still be charged with a DWI if he or she has a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater or was driving while under the influence of drugs.
Which is Worse: DUI or DWI?
In reality, whether a DUI or DWI is worse will depend on the state where you reside. In Texas, DWI is the more serious crime. DUIs are only charged to minors under the Texas Traffic Code. Because a DUI is charged when any amount of alcohol is found in their system, it is much easier to be found guilty, however.
DWIs are charged under the Texas Penal Code, which makes it a serious offense. Penalties can range from heavy fines to time in jail or prison.
Although you should not take either charge lightly, the consequences of a DWI are more severe than a DUI.
DUI & DWI Penalties
Another difference between a DWI and DUI is the penalties imposed for each offense. For a first time DWI offense, one may receive a fine up to $2,000, a jail sentence between 3 and 180 days, a loss of one’s driver’s license up to a year, and an annual fee of $1,000 or $2,000 for 3 years to retain one’s driver’s license.
However, a minor charged with drinking and driving may receive a fine up to $500, a 60-day suspension of his or her driver’s license, 20 to 40 hours of community service, and mandatory alcohol-awareness classes. For subsequent offenses, the severity of the penalties increase for both a DWI and DUI.
If you have any questions regarding underage DUI or DWI laws in Texas, it is important to reach out to an experienced DWI or DUI attorney who can help you understand and protect your rights.
At Johnson, Johnson, & Baer, P.C. we have over three decades of experience handling DUI cases. Call today at (713) 422-2270 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with our DWI defense lawyers. When your future is at stake, Johnson, Johnson, & Baer are the attorneys you want on your side.