DUI, DWI, and OWI…What’s the Difference?

Drinking and driving goes by many names.   DUI, or Driving Under the Influence. Or you can call it DWI, Driving While Intoxicated.  Some call it OWI, meaning Operating While Intoxicated.  Or even OMVI, short for Operating a Motor Vehicle while Intoxicated. People call  my office telling me that they need help with a DUI…or a DWI, or a host of other acronyms for drunken driving offenses. While Iowa’s acronym is actually “OWI” for “Operating While Intoxicated,” I get the picture. But what exactly does an OWI in Iowa mean?

In Iowa, there are two elements that make up the offense of OWI: you have to be operating a vehicle and you have to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

  1. Operation.  Iowa defines operation as being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle that is in motion or has the engine running.
  2. Under the Influence.  The State can establish that you are under the influence using officers’ observations of a you and your performance on a series of field sobriety tests, or other indicators.  Or, more familiarly, there is a “per se violation; ” which mean that you provide a test result above .08 or indicating the presence of a controlled substance.

So what’s the difference? In Iowa, no matter what you call it, OWI or DUI, DWI or OMVI, Drinking and Driving or just plain bad luck, it’s a violation of the Code of Iowa Chapter 321J.2.

Other states use other acronyms. Iowa’s use of “Operating” gives you a clue to the fact that our legislature has criminalized merely operating a car as opposed to driving one, though it’s impossible to make any assumptions about a state’s laws based on their acronyms. As an attorney licensed to practice in Iowa I can give you a very clear picture of what the Iowa legislature has chosen to criminalize with regards to DUI/OWI, but if you have a question about any other state’s drinking and driving laws, or you or someone you know needs an OWI/DUI lawyer outside the state of Iowa , you can contact the National College for DUI Defense Website to find a competent OWI/DUI attorney in that state.  If you or someone you know has been charged with OWI in Iowa please contact Attorney J. Dean Keegan or Thomas D. S. Farnsworth at our  Iowa City or  Cedar Rapids office for a free consultation.


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Criminal Defense Attorney
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