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What is the Difference Between DUI and DWAI?

Posted on February 28, 2023

Driving under the influence in Colorado can be charged as either a DUI or DWAI. A DUI is a charge that stands for driving under the influence, while a DWAI is a charge that stands for driving while ability impaired.


A DWAI charge means a driver was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of both. Additionally, their blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than 0.05 but less than the national DUI standard of 0.08. As a result, the driver was incapable of exercising clear judgment and safe care in operating a vehicle. In other words, the driver is not incoherent, but the state of Colorado considers them impaired to a degree that makes it unsafe to drive.


A DUI, on the other hand, means a driver was charged for driving with a BAC above the federal legal limit of .08 or more. A BAC beyond the legal limit allows law enforcement to presume that the driver was under the influence of alcohol and perform field sobriety tests that would likely show the driver is mentally or physically impaired.

DWAI vs. DUI Penalties

The penalties for both DUI and DWAI are severe, even for a first offense. However, DWAIs are treated as misdemeanors making them less severe than a DUI charge.

  • DWAI First Offense
    • Fines up to $500
    • From 2 to 180 days in jail
    • Up to 48 hours of community service
    • Eight points on your license
    • 10 days in jail or work release mandatory if the BAC is above .200
  • DUI First Offense
    • Up to $1,000 in fines
    • Between 5 and 365 days in jail
    • As much as 96 hours of community service
    • Twelve points on your license
    • A nine-month to a one-year suspension of your license
    • Substance abuse treatment program
    • 10 days in jail or work release mandatory if the BAC is above .200
  • Second & Third Offenses
    • A second offense DUI or DWAI requires a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail or work release in Colorado. A third offense requires a mandatory minimum of 60 days jail or work release.
    • All of the requirements of a first offense, with additional alcohol therapy.
    • Supervised probation.
    • Increased fines.
    • Additional consequences against your driver’s license.

What To Do After a DUI or DWAI Arrest

There are essential steps to take to protect yourself and the outcome of the DUI or DWAI charges you face:

  • Contact a Breckenridge DUI/DWAI Attorney as soon as possible. They will have a thorough understanding of DUI/DWAI laws in Colorado and can help you defend your side to reduce penalties, the charges, or eliminate them altogether.
  • Write everything down. Write down every detail you can remember about the stop, what the officer said, the tests, the arrest, etc.
  • Request a DMV hearing. The arresting officer will have taken your driver’s license away, and in most cases, you must contact the DMV within seven days of the offense to request a hearing. A temporary driving permit good for 60 days will be granted or until the day of your hearing.
  • Prepare for your arraignment. Your attorney will advise you on how to plead, what to say, and how to present yourself.

Depending on the facts of your case, you and your attorney may choose to negotiate a plea deal before appearing in court, or they may advise you to take the case to trial.