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What’s the difference between DWI and DWAI?

What is the definition of DWI and DWAI?

DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), the name for drunk driving in New York, is referred to as DUI (Driving Under the Influence) in many other states. DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired), like the name implies, is driving with some degree of ability impairment, but of a lesser degree than a full DWI. When pulling over a driver for drinking and driving, law enforcement will typically administer a breath or urine test to determine the driver’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level, and depending on what it shows, as well as other factors, they may elect to charge the driver with DWI or DWAI.

BAC level: If a driver shows a BAC of 0.08% and above, he/she will be charged with DWI, a misdemeanor, while a BAC of 0.05% and above results in a charge of DWAI, which while only a violation in New York, still has very serious consequences. In some cases, even a BAC of 0.02% is grounds for a DWI charge, such as for drivers under the age of 21. This is called the “zero-tolerance” law.

DWI alcohol and drugs: The BAC test is used for those driving after allegedly consuming alcohol. If one is suspected of driving after taking drugs, any amount is grounds for an arrest in New York, and being charged with DWI/drugs. Other states have different regulations when it comes to DWI/Drugs

PENALTIES FOR DRINKING AND DRIVING. There are many difference between the severity of DWI and DWAI:

DWI/ Alcohol: Here’s the fines, jail time and license status:dwi alcohol jail time chart

Chart 1

As one can see on the, there is a minimum of 1 year of jail time up to a maximum of 7 years, $500-$10,000 in fines and license revocation in all instances between 6 months and 1 year. There is also a state surcharge, which is generally $400.


DWAI/ Alcohol: By, comparison, here are the fines, jail time and license status:DWAI Offense jail time chart new york

Chart 2

As one can see from the chart, the differences are stark;

  • The amount of the fines which can be up to $10,000 for a third offense DWI, are a maximum of $1,500 for DWAI, only about 15% of the maximum DWI penalty. For first and second time offenses, the difference is not as great, DWAI paying about 50% of the maximum DWI penalty.
  • The length of jail differs greatly, as well, with DWI offender serving no less than 1 year of jail for a 1st offense while DWAI violators serving a maximum of only 6 months for a 3rd offense.
  • When it comes to license status, the differences are not that great with licenses being revoked for about half the amount of time for DWAI violators. The only exception is 1st time DWAI offenders that have their licenses suspended only, as opposed to revoked for DWI.
  • The state surcharge in DWAI cases is generally $260, as opposed to $400 for DWI.

It should be noted that even in DWAI convictions, one’s record still shows an alcohol violation, which carries many legal and financial consequences. It is not a light charge by any means.

Now let us move on to cover the fines and other consequences of taking drugs and driving: Dwi NY fine jail time NY chart 3

Chart 3

When it comes to drugs and driving, in the language of the statute the charge is DWAI for drugs, however the fines, jail time and license status is the same as a DWI offense, as we can see on the chart above.

If we analyze the information on this cart, we see that all penalties for driving while impaired by drugs, regardless of the level of impairment, are identical to the penalties for DWI/Alcohol. In effect, while it is called DWAI/drugs, it is a misdemeanor, and should be treated as a full DWI.

Conclusion: Drinking and driving is dangerous to yourself and to others. If you have been drinking, assign a sober friend to do the driving. Or call a taxi. If you have been caught drinking and driving or driving while impaired by drugs, the help of a competent New York attorney is advisable to help you fight the charges, shorten or avoid jail time and in preserving your driving privileges. Your attorney will also guide you through the difficult and lengthy judicial process.