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What is DWI and What Counts As Intoxicated Driving? A Guide

Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. They know that alcohol can severely impair your reasoning, thinking, and muscle coordination.

Yet many people get behind the wheel after drinking regardless because they don’t understand the specifics of what constitutes drinking and driving. So what is DWI, and how can you avoid getting one? And if you do get one, what should you do?

Keep reading for a DWI guide that will break down everything you need to know.

What Is DWI?

The exact definition of a DWI varies from state to state. In many states, it stands for “driving while intoxicated” and means the same thing as a DUI, which stands for “driving under the influence”.

In these situations, the driver has a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher. Whether or not you were visibly impaired doesn’t matter. If a law enforcement officer pulls you over and you fail a breathalyzer test, it’s a crime regardless.

Traditionally, you needed to be driving a car in order to receive punishment, but this is beginning to change. Now, many states have expanded the law to encompass situations where you’re “in physical control of the vehicle” or “operating the vehicle”.

The addition of these clauses means that situations, where you’re not driving a vehicle, can still land you into trouble. For example, if you have the keys in the ignition and are parked on the side of the road, the law may find you guilty.

Other Meanings of DWI

Depending on what state you live in, what counts as DWI may include other things besides drinking and driving. In some places, it stands for “driving while impaired”.

In these states, you don’t need to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in order for law enforcement officers to find you guilty. Any sort of impairment can be grounds for criminal charges.

Driving while impaired can encompass everything from falling asleep behind the wheel, to being physically unable to operate a vehicle but attempting to do so anyway.

Check the laws of the state you live in to make sure that you have a clear understanding of what constitutes a DWI.

Jail Time and Fines

As with any sort of criminal charge, DWI punishment depends on where you are, as well as the severity of the crime.

Most states classify DWI 1st offense as a misdemeanor. This means that at most, the law can send you to jail for six months to a year. However, in some states like New Jersey, the maximum jail, time for a first-time DWI is 30 days. You may also have to pay a fine which can range from $500 to $2000.

If you get a second or third DUI, the punishment may be more severe. A judge may send you to jail for a longer period of time, or you may have to a few thousand dollars worth of fines.

In extreme cases, the law may classify a DWI as a felony. Most of the time in these cases, the driver injures or kills someone while driving. These sorts of situations can lead to several years spent behind bars.

Other Problems

Aside from spending time in jail and having to pay a fine, getting a DWI also has an impact on your driver’s license.

Regardless of the severity of the DWI, there’s a good chance that a court or the DMV will suspend your license. The duration of the suspension period depends on how many prior convictions you’ve had. This can range anywhere from a matter of months to several years.

Your car insurance company may punish you by increasing your insurance rate, or by cutting off your insurance altogether. A DWI may also disqualify you from certain jobs in the future, and you’ll also have to list it on any application forms that have a criminal section.

How to Handle a DWI

Of course, the best way to stay safe from DWI punishments is to avoid getting one in the first place. Know your limits, and if you think that driving in your current state may be risky, it probably is. Avoid driving, or ask a friend to give you a ride.

However, no one is perfect, and people make judgment mistakes from time to time. If you do get a DWI, the most important thing to do is find a lawyer who specializes in criminal defense.

Criminal defense lawyers understand the intricacies of the legal challenges that you face. They’ll work with you and explain the different options available. In some cases, this may mean pleading guilty, while in other instances, your experience may make pleading innocent a viable option.

As mentioned, DWI penalties can impact your life in a number of different ways. A lawyer will help you make sense of the legal process ahead of you, and work to reduce the severity of the punishment. Even if you don’t end up hiring an attorney, asking one for a consultation can still be a smart idea.

Protect Yourself and Others

What is DWI? As this guide explains, getting one can be life-changing for the unprepared. Play it safe and avoid getting one in the first place, but if you do get one, make sure to seek legal help. The right lawyer will be able to advise you on your legal options, as well as protect you, if possible.

Do you now have a better understanding of what counts as DWI? If you do, make sure to check out some of our other blog posts for more guides and tips.

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