Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)?

Refer to the definition for driving under the influence.

History and Meaning of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

Driving while intoxicated, or DWI, refers to the criminal offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. DWI laws have been around for almost as long as automobiles have been on the roads. In the early 1900s, traffic laws began targeting driving while intoxicated, although these laws varied greatly from state to state.

In the 1980s, there was a push for stricter DWI laws due to an increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Many states lowered the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit from 0.10% to 0.08%, and some also implemented mandatory ignition interlock devices for repeat offenders. Today, DWI remains a serious offense that can result in hefty fines, license suspension, and even jail time.

Examples of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

  1. A driver is pulled over for swerving on the road and is found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.09%. They are charged with DWI.
  2. A driver causes an accident while driving under the influence of prescription medication. They are arrested and charged with DWI.
  3. A driver is pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint and refuses to take a breathalyzer test. They are charged with DWI, and their license may be suspended.

Legal Terms Similar to Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

  1. Driving under the influence (DUI): This term is often used interchangeably with DWI and refers to the same offense.
  2. Operating under the influence (OUI): Some states use this term instead of DWI or DUI.
  3. Zero tolerance: This refers to laws that prohibit drivers under the age of 21 from driving with any measurable BAC.