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What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI in North Carolina?

Some states use driving under the influence (DUI) to refer to the crime of drunk driving, while others use driving while impaired (DWI). Still others use both, but each refers to a different type of drunk driving crime. In North Carolina, the law does not differentiate between DUI and DWI. They are the same crime within state lines. However, the legal system in North Carolina uses DWI as the official acronym.

Driving While Impaired in North Carolina

North Carolina’s Safe Roads Act of 1983 condensed the state’s DUI and DWI laws into only DWI. The act simplified the state’s previous drunk and drugged driving laws, eliminating them and replacing them with a single offense: driving while impaired. In North Carolina, driving while impaired can mean driving while drunk, high, both, or otherwise under the influence of a substance.

The most common reason officers issue DWI charges in North Carolina is drunk driving. Drunk driving refers to operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher for drivers 21 and older, 0.04% for commercial drivers or prior DWI recipients, or any alcohol concentration for drivers under the age of 21. In 2016, 354 people died in drunk driving accidents in North Carolina. Drunk driving is a serious crime that can lead to a permanent criminal record, jail time, and hefty fines.

DWI charges can also result from driving under the influence of drugs. Any drug that impairs a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle could be grounds for a DWI. This includes prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Many legal drugs can cause drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, and other side effects that may impair a driver too much for safe driving. A driver in North Carolina is at risk of receiving a DWI charge if driving after taking any type of impairing drug or using another intoxicating substance.

Penalties for DWI in North Carolina

Whether you hear the phrase DUI or DWI in North Carolina, they refer to the same crime. The official charge you will see on the record, however, will say DWI. The penalties for DWI in North Carolina can be severe. They depend on the driver’s BAC level at the time of arrest, number of prior offenses, driver’s license classification, and age, and can include a few types of consequences.

  • Suspension of the driver’s license
  • Driver’s license revocation
  • Thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees
  • Possible or mandatory jail time
  • Community service requirements
  • Enrollment in alcohol or substance abuse education courses
  • Higher car insurance premiums
  • Additional penalties from the Department of Transportation

Refusing to take a chemical BAC test at the time of the traffic stop will result in automatic suspension of your driver’s license for one year. You will lose your right to drive for one year after receiving your first DWI conviction, for four years after a second offense, and permanently if you have three or more DWIs. An aggravated DWI is extremely serious and means the driver has injured someone while driving impaired. The penalties for aggravated DWI are up to $10,000 in fines, license suspension for 30 days, 12 to 36 months in jail, and monitored sobriety for four months after release.

When to Talk to a DWI Lawyer

A DWI conviction in North Carolina could change your life. You could lose your driving privileges, your job, and your rights. Fight a DWI charge with help from a DWI attorney in Raleigh, NC. Do not answer police interrogation questions, other than giving your name, until you have an attorney present. Comply with orders and do not resist arrest, but politely explain that you will wait until your lawyer is present to answer further questions. Quickly contacting a lawyer at the beginning of your arrest can ultimately help your case.