The difference between an OWI and DUI

The difference between an OWI and DUI

If you face drunk driving charges in Wisconsin, they may be for operating while intoxicated or driving under the influence. Though these terms look similar, they are two very different charges in the eyes of the law. Therefore, they carry very different charges and penalties.

Whether you face an OWI or DUI, you should know a few things. Read on to learn the difference between these charges and how they can affect you in the state of Wisconsin.


An OWI involves operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a drug. This includes various types of motorized vehicles, including:

  •          Cars and trucks
  •          Snowmobiles
  •          Boats

If an individual operates any such vehicle while under the influence, courts may find them guilty and apply strict penalties in a conviction.


The major difference between an OWI and a DUI is in the use of the term “operation of a motor vehicle.” The Wisconsin OWI statute defines operation of a vehicle as having control of any part of the vehicle needed to make it move. Therefore, an individual may receive an OWI citation without driving the vehicle. For instance, if an individual gets behind the wheel of a car and puts the key in the ignition but then decides not to drive, the authorities would not charge that person with a DUI. However, if authorities happen upon the individual and see the key in the ignition, they may charge the individual with an OWI. In both cases, the accused party faces stiff penalties, but the charges do vary.

In short, the facts of the situation help to determine the difference between an OWI and a DUI. If you are looking to fight your case, it is important that you understand the facts surrounding your specific citation. Be sure to do your research, and it may be beneficial to consult with a knowledgeable legal resource.