Driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI), is the crime of driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs (including recreational drugs and those prescribed by physicians), to a level that renders the driver incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely.


Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a crime under state laws that seek to regulate the operation of a vehicle after a driver has consumed alcohol. DUIs typically make it illegal for a driver who has had more than a certain amount of alcohol to get behind the wheel of a car. DUIs are also referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI). A DUI is a criminal offense with serious criminal and civil penalties.

Everyone knows that drinking and driving is not a good practice. First, it is dangerous. Thousands of people are killed each year by drunk drivers, and even more are seriously injured. Second, drunken driving is illegal in all 50 states. This means that even if you are lucky enough to escape from your drunk driving incident without injuring yourself or others, you likely will be charged with a crime.

All 50 states have now set .08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as the legal limit for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI). For commercial drivers, a BAC of .04% can result in a DUI or DWI conviction nationwide. For those under 21 years old, there is a zero tolerance limit – even the smallest amount of alcohol is grounds for a DUI or DWI arrest.

There are essentially three types of drunk driving laws:

  • Driving under the influence. Every one of the 50 U.S. states makes a DUI or DWI a crime.  DWIs and DUIs are usually defined as driving while impaired by alcohol or other legal or illegal substances. If a driver is pulled over for driving in a manner that suggests possible intoxication, law enforcement officers can employ a variety of methods to determine if the driver is driving under the influence. Police may ask the driver to complete field sobriety tests, such as walking in a straight line or standing on one leg. They may also ask the driver to complete a breathalyzer test, which measures the percentage of alcohol currently in someone’s system. Finally, for the most accurate results, a blood alcohol test may be conducted to measure the level of intoxicants and to determine exactly which intoxicants are in an individual’s system.
  • BAC of.08% or higher. In all states it is also a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, regardless of whether one’s driving was actually impaired or affected. To prove a person is guilty of the offense of driving with a BAC of.08%, a prosecutor must prove that the person drove a vehicle, and alcohol was present in his blood at a concentration of.08% or greater while driving. This is often called “per se intoxication”. So, even if the driver was driving cautiously and conservatively, he can still be found guilty if his BAC was.08% or more while driving.
  • Felony DUI. Certain types of DUIs can be charged as a felony, a serious crime that could result in a prison sentence. If a driver kills or injures someone as the result of DUI, the driver can be found guilty of a felony and could go to state prison for years. In some states, a third and subsequent DUI or DWI is by itself enough to get a driver charged with a felony even if nobody was killed or injured as a result.

Anyone accused of a DUI or DWI should contact a lawyer with experience in this area of law to avoid a suspension of license, and to protect constitutional rights. Since the stakes are fairly high, it usually pays to have a DUI attorney handle your case. Your attorney will be skilled at scrutinizing the evidence against you, ensuring that your rights are protected, and securing the best possible outcome.

Thomas Elliott

Education: Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York. Pace University, White Plains, New York.
Professional Associations and Memberships: American Bar Association, New York State Bar, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Brooklyn Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

Rate author
Cases legal