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What is the difference between DWAI and DUI?

Most New Yorkers understand that drunk driving is a crime, but they have little understanding about the specific crimes that are related to drinking and driving. For example, most New Yorkers are aware that a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08 percent is the threshold for legal intoxication while driving. What most people in the state do not realize is that a lower threshold governs the offense of Driving While Alcohol Influenced, or DWAI.

The distinction is important. DUI is a crime in New York, but DWAI is only a traffic offense, much like speeding. A conviction for DUI requires the state to prove that the driver’s BAC exceeded 0.08 percent, whereas a DWAI charge requires only a showing that the BAC is between .05 percent and 0.07 percent or other evidence of impairment.

The penalties for DWAI are significantly less harsh than those for DUI, but they are not insignificant. An initial DUI conviction can be punished by a fine from $500 to $1000, one year’s imprisonment and revocation of the driver’s license for up to six months. The first DWAI conviction is punishable by a fine of $300 to $500, up to 15 days in jail, and suspension of the driver’s license for 90 days. A DWAI involving the use of both drugs and alcohol carries heavier penalties: a fine of $500 to $1,000, imprisonment for up to one year, and driver’s license revocation for six months. Subsequent DWAI convictions will incur harsher penalties. A second DWAI in five years can be punished by a fine of $500 to $750, up to 30 days in jail, and driver’s license revocation for six months. A third DWAI conviction becomes a misdemeanor and can draw a fine of $750 to $1,500, up to 180 days in jail, and license revocation for up to six months.

Anyone who has been charged with driving while using alcohol, whether the charge is DUI or merely DWAI, may benefit from consulting an attorney who specializes in defending such cases. A consultation with a knowledgeable attorney can provide a helpful analysis of the facts, the potential penalties and the likelihood of obtaining either a favorable plea agreement or an outright acquittal.

Source: New York Department of Motor Vehicles, “Penalties for alcohol or drug-related violations,” accessed on July 5, 2015