Recovery is possible. We are open 24/7. 866-797-7962

Is There a Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in North Carolina?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Even though alcohol is legal for people over the age of 21 to purchase, it is extremely dangerous when abused. Alcohol intoxication can cause loss of inhibitions, slow hand-eye coordination and reflexes, and poor decision-making. As a result, people who abuse alcohol frequently experience accidents and injuries as a result of their drinking. One of the more serious consequences of alcohol abuse, and drinking and driving, in particular, is getting pulled over and arrested while driving under the influence.

Alcohol isn’t the only intoxicating substance that can pose a threat to public safety behind the wheel. In fact, most mood-and-mind-altering substances should not be used when operating heavy machinery or driving. Substances like marijuana, heroin, prescription opioids, and benzodiazepines can all produce symptoms that make driving while under the influence dangerous. Still, in 2018, 20.5 million people aged 16 and older drove while under the influence of alcohol and 12.6 million drove under the influence of illicit drugs.[1] As a result, all U.S. states have laws regarding driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while impaired (DWI).

North Carolina, however, does not differentiate between a DUI and a DWI. Driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is considered the same crime within North Carolina state lines. The official acronym used to describe charges for driving while intoxicated in the state is DWI.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in North Carolina?

The acronym “DUI” stands for Driving Under the Influence, a term that is usually used to describe drunk driving. DUI, however, could also imply driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. It is not exclusive to one type of substance or another. “DWI,” on the other hand, stands for Driving While Intoxicated or Driving While Impaired. DWI can also refer to impairment that is caused by drugs or alcohol. However, in some states. DWI can include driving in any state in which a law enforcement officer thinks a person is in a mental state that makes them too impaired to drive. This can also be caused by sleepiness or an unstable mental state.

Some states have different criteria people must meet to be charged with either a DWI or a DUI. Others, like North Carolina, consider there to be no difference between a DUI and a DWI. This is because North Carolina’s Safe Roads Act of 1983 put every intoxicated driving charge under one single offense–a DWI.

What Classifies as a DWI Charge in North Carolina?

Drunk driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher in drivers aged 21+. Commercial drivers, on the other hand, can be charged with a DWI if their BAC exceeds 0.04%. Further, drivers under the age of 21 can be charged with a DWI if they are pulled over with any detectable alcohol concentration in their system.

People who have already faced one DWI charge may be arrested for another if they are pulled over with a BAC of over 0.04%.

Alcohol isn’t the only substance that can get a person a DWI, though. DWI charges in North Carolina can also occur as a result of driving while under the influence of illicit, prescription, and even over-the-counter drugs. Any driver who has taken a substance that causes drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, or poor coordination may get charged with a DWI. When it comes to drugs, it does not matter what kind of drug or how much of it is in a person’s system–they can still get charged with a DWI if the arresting officer thinks they are too impaired to drive.

How Often Do People Drive While Intoxicated in North Carolina?

Drugged and drunk driving are both major problems across America. People who engage in these behaviors can harm themselves and injure or even kill others on the road. In 2016, 354 people died as a result of drunk driving accidents in the state of North Carolina.[2] While this number may seem high, it is the lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities in the state since before 1990.

According to the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program 2017 Annual Report, law enforcement made 7,666 DWI arrests in 2017.[2] The majority of these arrests are made Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights between 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. Programs like the “Booze It & Lose It” campaign and the Statewide Impaired Driving Task Force’s “Impaired Driving Plan” aim to reduce the number of DWIs and impaired driving incidents in the state.

Possible Penalties for a DWI Charge in North Carolina

Since there is not a difference between DUI and DWI charges in North Carolina, people who are arrested because of driving while impaired on drugs or alcohol may face similar consequences. The exact penalties a person receives depends on their BAC at the time of the arrest, any prior offenses, their driver’s license classification, and age at the time of the arrest.

Possible penalties for getting a DWI in North Carolina include:

  • Suspended driver’s license
  • Revoked driver’s license
  • Fines and legal fees
  • Jail time
  • Community service
  • Alcohol or drug abuse education classes
  • Increased car insurance premium

Find Help for Substance Abuse and Addiction in North Carolina

A DWI is a serious offense that can damage your driving and legal records for a lifetime. Fortunately, many impaired driving incidents can be avoided by a sober lifestyle.

If you or a loved one are addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is only a matter of time before your habits get you into legal trouble. When the time comes, you don’t want your addiction to hurt others as it can in the case of drugged or drunk driving. The best thing you can do is seek help before it’s too late.

Here at Carolina Center for Recovery, we provide evidence-based addiction treatment programs that can help you get your life back on track. Call today to see if our treatment programs are right for you.