What is the Difference Between a DWI and a DUI in New York?

Although many drivers believe that DUIs and DWIs are interchangeable terms, the reality is that the two charges are very different. For instance, a DWI refers to when a driver’s blood alcohol content level (BAC) measures 0.08 percent or higher. DUIs, on the other hand, are charged when a driver’s BAC is lower than 0.08 percent, but he or she is still intoxicated, or is under the influence of drugs. The penalties for various drunk driving-related offenses vary significantly. In fact, New York state does not even use the term DUI, so if you were arrested for drunk driving and have questions about your legal options, it is critical to contact an experienced DWI lawyer who is familiar with state law and can evaluate your case.

Different Types of Drunk Driving Charges in New York

What Constitutes a DWAI/DWI Charge?

Drunk driving laws vary by state and New York, unlike many other places, does not actually use the term DUI. Instead, drivers can be charged with one of two drunk-driving related charges:

  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI); or
  • Driving while ability impaired (DWAI).

As previously mentioned, a DWI means that a driver was deemed legally intoxicated and had a BAC of 0.08 percent at the time of arrest. DWAI charges are a bit different and apply in situations when a driver’s BAC does not reach 0.08 percent, but instead is somewhere between 0.05 percent and 0.07 percent. DWAI charges can also be tailored to the specific substance believed to have been impairing the driver at the time of arrest. For example, a person who was allegedly driving under the influence of drugs can be charged with a DWAI-Drugs, while a person accused of driving under the influence of alcohol would be charged with a DWAI-Alcohol.


While both DWI and DWAI charges can lead to fines, jail time, and the revocation of the driver’s license, DWAIs are generally considered less serious than DWIs. For instance, someone convicted of a DWAI for the first time faces fines of up to $1,000, three years of probation, a one year jail sentence, and the automatic revocation of his or her license for six months. While the penalties for a DWI conviction are similar, offenders are also required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. These devices are essentially breathalyzers that are connected to a vehicle’s engine and require the driver to test his or her breath prior to starting the car. If the device detects any alcohol, the engine will not start. All offenders who are convicted of DWIs in New York must install these devices on their car for at least one year.

Generally, the penalties for a DWAI and DWI increase in severity for each subsequent charge. For instance, if a person is charged with a second DWI or DWAI within a ten year period, the charge becomes an E felony, which is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Schedule a Consultation With an Experienced New York DWI Attorney

If you were arrested for driving while under the influence, please contact the Law Offices of George Vomvolakis by calling 212-682-0700 to speak with an experienced DWI attorney who can explain your legal options.