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Understanding the differences between DWAI and DUI

It is no surprise that many Colorado motorists are confused about the differences between driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and driving under the influence (DUI), especially since their names sound like they could be the same thing. The fact is, however, they are quite different.

The primary difference between these two seemingly similar criminal offenses can be found in their definitions:

  • DWAI: Driving a vehicle after consuming alcohol or drugs, and such consumption has impacted you to the slightest degree so that you are less able, either mentally or physically, to exercise sufficient control or proper care when operating your vehicle.
  • DUI: Driving a vehicle after consuming alcohol or drugs, and such consumption has impacted you to the degree that you are substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, of safely operating your vehicle or exercising sufficient control.

As you can see from the definitions above, DUIs typically involve more intoxicated motorists. In fact, under Colorado law, the blood-alcohol-concentration (BAC) limit for a DUI per se is .08 percent, while drivers can be charged with DWAI if they have a BAC in excess of just .05 percent.

The penalties are different too

Given that those convicted of DUI typically have higher BACs, it is no surprise that the penalties for DUI are more severe. For instance, first-time DWAI and DUI offenders may face the following penalties:

DWAI Penalties:

  • Jail time of two days to 180 days, which a court can suspend if the offender submits to an alcohol evaluation and completes an alcohol education program
  • Fine ranging from $200 to $500, which the court has the discretion to suspend
  • Community service of 24 to 48 hours
  • Probation of up to two years

DUI Penalties:

  • Jail time of five days to one year, which the court can suspend if the offender submits to an alcohol evaluation and completes an alcohol education program
  • Fine ranging from $600 to $1,000, which the court has the discretion to suspend
  • License revocation of nine months, although the offender may eventually be able to apply for a restricted license
  • Community service of 48 to 96 hours
  • Probation of up to two years
  • Possible installation of ignition interlock device in the offender’s vehicles

However, it is important to keep in mind that these penalties only apply to first-time offenders who don’t have BACs over .2 percent. Indeed, repeat offenders or those with very high BACs can face significantly harsher punishments, which is why it is always best to contact an attorney, regardless of your situation.

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