Are OWIs and DUIs the Same Thing?

OWIs and DUIs are both terms used to describe offenses committed by someone operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While it is easy to use the terms interchangeably, the use of the terms and their legal significance can differ from state to state. For example, OWI and DUI mean the same thing in Michigan, but in Wisconsin, they refer to two different offenses and carry different criminal liabilities.

Are OWIs and DUIs the Same Thing?


DUI, or Driving Under the Influence, is an offense committed when you are found to be driving under the influence of alcohol or impaired by drugs. A person can be charged when he or she is driving a vehicle and his or her blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit, which is .08 percent in Indiana.

States that have DUI charges consider the act of driving a distinguishing factor for the offense to be punishable. To make a DUI charge stick, the vehicle must be mobile, with the person charged behind the wheel and in control of the vehicle.


OWI, or Operating While Intoxicated, is an offense that refers to the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence. In states like Wisconsin, you can be charged with an OWI if you operate a motor vehicle while under the influence, even if you are not driving that vehicle. For example, under Wisconsin law, you can be charged with an OWI if you are suspected of intoxication and you are seated in the driver’s seat of a car with its engine running, even if the car is stationary.

An OWI charge can stick even if the vehicle is not in motion and this applies to any motor vehicle, not just cars. You can face OWI charges if you are under the influence while on a tractor, snowmobile, or even a boat, if it can be shown that you have operational control of the vehicle. In some states, operation can even extend to the control of a horse-drawn carriage while under the influence.

The Consequences

A charge and conviction for driving-related offenses such as a DUI or an OWI can lead to numerous negative consequences, from steep fines and loss of driving rights to jail time. Having this on your record can also affect future employment opportunities and your insurance rates. This is the reason why it makes perfect sense to work with an experienced DUI/OWI attorney if you are facing these charges. He or she can help scrutinize the evidence against you, so you can craft a defense that best helps your case. Working with a lawyer also ensures that your rights are protected as you face these charges. Get in touch with your DUI lawyer in Terre Haute today.