Difference Between OWI and DUI

It is rarely anyone’s intention to be hauled over after drinking, but bad judgment may occasionally get the best of you and find you in serious legal trouble. When discussing drunk driving, the phrases OWI and DUI are sometimes used indiscriminately. This causes natural uncertainty regarding whether there is a distinction between these charges or not.


The main difference between OWI and DUI is that OWI stands for operating while intoxicated and it is what you could be charged within Michigan if you operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. DUI, on the other hand, refers to driving while under the influence of liquor.


OWI is an abbreviation for operating while intoxicated. In any instance, even if you don’t move anywhere and aren’t on the street, even if you’re in your driveway, yard, or in the woods on privately owned property on a 3-wheeler, it’s still an OWI if the engine is turned on and you’re in the driving seat.

DUI is one of the most often used abbreviations, and it is frequently and wrongly used in all elements of drunk driving. “Driving” is the important word in a DUI. It is the offense of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor or substances to the point where the driver is incapacitated of driving a motorized transport securely.

Comparison Table Between OWI and DUI

Parameters of ComparisonOWIDUI
Full formOperating while intoxicatedDriving under the influence
Year of introduction19991910
ApplicabilityMichiganAll around the world
Blood alcohol contentBelow .07%At/or above 0.08%
SeverityMore severeLess severe
Conviction on record2 years3-5 years

What is OWI?

In Michigan, the official legal abbreviation is OWI, although DUI is still being used as a broader relation to drunk driving, owing to its familiarity. If you were caught for drunk driving in Michigan, the ticket you will obtain will say “OWI.”

OWI is more than just driving a vehicle or truck. “Operating” includes a boat, a bicycle, or even a tricycle peddling on the sidewalk. In essence, if you are high on drugs and climb on a child’s tricycle, peddling it and propelling itself forward, you can be punished with OWI. An OWI charge can be issued even if you are not in a public location.

There is an absolute zero tolerance regulation for individuals under the age of 21, indicating you might be prosecuted with OWI if even a residue of alcohol is discovered in your system. Chemical testing, including breath, blood, and urine tests, can be used to measure blood alcohol concentration.

In the past, the state government in Michigan changed the initials for drunk driving from OUIL and UBAL to OWI in 1999. This was adopted so that the prosecutor may use the same phrase, OWI, to refer to both legal arguments accessible to him.

Nonetheless, there were still insinuations in Michigan, and the legal limit was.10. Michigan’s statute was revised once again in 2003. This meant that you could (and still) be guilty of drunk driving in Michigan even if your breath test result was less than 0.07%

OWI can now be proven when a prosecution establishes, beyond just a possible suspicion, that you were either operating under the influence.

What is DUI?

DUI can refer to either driving under the influence of alcohol or driving under the influence of drugs. The medicines might be OTC, pharmaceutical, or illicit.

When it comes to driving while intoxicated, your state may make it unlawful to get behind the wheel if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent.

Law enforcement officers in several jurisdictions can perform diagnostic tests on individuals to look for signs of inebriation. If convicted of a DUI, the accused will receive a criminal term (such as voluntary work, a fine, or possibly jail) as well as a driver’s loss of license, based on the intensity of the incident and if it is an initial offense.

A lawyer may be able to assist the accused in regaining driving rights with conditions, such as utilizing an ignition interlock device (IID) or having restricted authorization to drive to and from the workplace.

Although most DUIs are tried at the state level, drivers can face federal charges if they were driving while inebriated on government property, such as nature reserves, forests, monuments, federal facilities, military facilities, or associated parking spaces.

If a veteran of the military is detected driving a vehicle while inebriated, they may face charges under the Uniform Rules of Military Justice.

DUI accusations are often regarded as misdemeanors, which means that your possible jail term is limited to one year. However, in certain situations, these offenses are classified as felonies, resulting in lengthy jail terms, crushing penalties, and worse collateral repercussions.

Main Differences Between OWI and DUI

1. OWI is an abbreviation for operating while intoxicated while DUI is an abbreviation for driving under the influence.

2. OWI was introduced in 1999 meanwhile DUI has been in practice since 1910.

3. OWI is a term that is legally recognized in Michigan while DUI is a more popular term that functions all around the world.

4. Blood alcohol content to get charged with OWI is below 0.07% meanwhile for DUI it is a minimum of 0.08% and higher.

5. When compared together, OWI is more severe than DUI.

6. OWI charges stay on your record for 2 years whereas DUI charges generally show on your record for the next 3-5 years.


Most states use either OWI or DUI when referencing drunk driving regulations, although not always. A charge of OWI is more serious than a DUI offense. An attorney may be able to lower an OWI conviction to a DUI offense in some situations.

OWI is used as an umbrella term to include the intoxication caused by any substance, including alcohol, prescription medications, marijuana, opioids, tablets, and so on. Numerous states have recently established greater limitations for their terminology to eliminate a grey area between the phrases driving and operating.

The distinction between the D, which stands for driving, and the O, which stands for operating, enables authorities to capture people doing activities that are not regarded as driving. While DUI refers simply to being caught while driving under the influence of liquor.


  1. https://search.proquest.com/openview/3099ef3d74575b10d1a1f64d1c96156b/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=2026554
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027273580500142X
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