11 Things You Need to Know if You Get a DWI, DUI, or OUI

Some serious penalties, like losing your license and possibly even your car insurance coverage, can follow a DUI or DWI conviction. Here are some tips for dealing with this situation.

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Whether called “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), “driving under the influence” (DUI), or “operating under the influence” (OUI), the crime commonly known as "drunk driving" has some serious penalties.

Given that, here are 11 things you need to know about the process that surrounds a DWI, DUI, or OUI arrest or conviction and what you can expect to happen afterward.

What happens when you get a DUI

1. The basics of driving while intoxicated aren't that basic

A DWI, DUI, or OUI arrest means you’re caught driving a vehicle while “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal). And, it doesn't always involve a car or a truck. You also can get a DWI while driving other vehicles like ATVs, golf carts, and even bicycles.

In many cases, a DWI starts when a police officer pulls someone over because their driving seems erratic or impaired. Then, the officer conducts various sobriety and chemical tests, such as the Breathalyzer, which measures blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC. These tests determine whether or not the driver is under the influence.

You can still get a DWI if you’re pulled over for some reason other than erratic driving, by the way. As long as your BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, you can be charged, even if your driving wasn’t affected.

Note: some states assume that any amount of alcohol or certain drugs in the bloodstream constitutes impairment.

Your insurance rates will soar after a DUI but it's still possible to find affordable coverage.
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2. DWI, DUI, and OUI aren't always interchangeable

Whether "drunk driving" is officially referred to as a DWI, DUI, or OUI often depends on the state. In some states for example, only DWI is used. In others, DWI is used to refer to people who drive under the influence of alcohol, while DUI is used to refer to people who drive under the influence of drugs. Also, some states use DWI if a driver's BAC is over a certain limit and use DUI if their BAC is below that limit, while yet other states sometimes allow DWI charges to be reduced to a DUI if specific conditions are met.

3. Don't be surprised if your car insurance rates are raised as a result of a DUI or DWI

Along with the above, you can expect to pay more for car insurance due to a drunk-driving conviction (since you will now be a "high-risk driver"). You may even have to shop around for a new car insurance company. Your current one could drop you once it learns about your conviction. Finally, your DWI conviction can affect your life-insurance premiums, too. 

That said, insurance companies don't all think the same way about driving while intoxicated, nor do they treat all DWI convictions equally. In other words, if your driving record was spotless before your conviction, and it was your first offense, then your premium payments may be only slightly higher than before.

Regardless, one thing you'll have to do after a DWI is obtain an SR-22 form. This proves that you currently carry liability insurance, and you can get it from your insurance provider. It’s not required in all states, but most require it. Only Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania don't require these forms. An SR-22 is usually tied to you getting your driver's license back.

If your insurance rates go up after a DUI or DWI, don't despair. Shop around and compare quotes from multiple companies to get the lowest rates on one of the most expensive kinds of insurance.

4. "Drunk driving" isn't just about alcohol consumption

DWIs, DUIs, and OUIs aren't only tied to driving under the influence of alcohol. Operating a vehicle after consuming other substances can result in arrest and conviction too. This refers to both illegal and legal drugs, including illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs.

5. DWIs usually aren't felonies, although there are exceptions

The first time you get a DWI (or DUI or OUI), it probably will be a misdemeanor and not a felony.

However, some situations cause even first-time DWIs to be felonies. For example, if you kill or severely injure someone while driving under the influence, that’s a felony. It's also a felony if you're caught with an especially high BAC, or if your license was restricted, suspended, or revoked before the incident.

Also, in some states, your third or fourth DWI can get you a felony charge, even if no one was harmed as a result.

6. You can tackle your arraignment by yourself, but bring in a lawyer after that

After you get a DWI arrest, your next step is likely to go to court for your arraignment. There, you'll be formally charged with a crime and must respond to that charge with a guilty or not-guilty plea.

This is also where you can demand a jury trial. But, if you live in a state that allows one, you probably won’t have to ask for it. In these states, the court assumes that you want one unless you say otherwise.

According to Nolo.com's David Brown, you usually don’t need to have an attorney accompany you to your arraignment. After that, you’ll want one to accompany, or at least assist you. An attorney can help you decide if you should plead guilty, fight your charges in trial, or ask for a plea bargain. Especially if it’s your first offense, a plea bargain could reduce your charge to something like reckless driving.

7. Be prepared to lose your driver's license

If you are charged with a DWI or DUI, it's a pretty safe bet that your driver's license will be suspended.

In most cases, the arresting officer will take your license and then give you a temporary one. This temporary license has an expiration date that matches your appearance at a DMV hearing. If you don’t request a hearing, your license will be suspended automatically. If you successfully plead your case at the hearing, they may return your license to you. But, if you fail to plead your case, your license will probably be suspended for some amount of time. The length of time depends on a number of factors, including your BAC and if you have any prior DWIs on your record.

By the way, if you refuse to give a blood, breath, or urine sample at the time of your arrest, your driver's license will be automatically suspended. Depending on the state, it will last for 3 to 12 months. This suspension remains in force even if you're not convicted of a DWI.

8. To get your license back, you'll probably have to go through a treatment program

The most common route to getting your driver’s license back is some kind of education, therapy, or treatment program.

That said, successfully completing one of these programs doesn't mean you'll be allowed to drive again. That's usually the case, but not always. If the court forces you to take a course and you don’t complete it, you won't be getting your license back anytime soon.

Note: if you're convicted of driving under the influence on multiple occasions, you may lose your license for a number of years or even permanently. This is due to “Habitual Offender” laws that have been passed in many states.

9. It's possible, but unlikely, that you could lose your car, too

If this isn't your first drunk-driving conviction, the judge may impound your car for a certain period of time. He or she could even order you to forfeit (get rid of, basically) your vehicle. Luckily, this is only in extreme circumstances.

These kinds of penalties are much less common than they were in the past. Thanks to gadgets like Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs), in which the technology keeps drivers from starting their cars if their BAC is too high.

10. Fines, jail time, and more also can be tied to a DWI conviction

Along with losing your license and possibly having to install an IID in your car, there other penalties you could get if you're convicted of a DWI or DUI.

A couple of additional examples are: fines, jail time, probation, and the court-ordered use of a SCRAM bracelet. These devices monitor the presence of alcohol in a person's sweat. (They’re usually limited to repeat DWI offenders only.)

11. Your DWI or DUI will stick with you for a while

Once your DWI conviction is official, it will remain on your record. As a result, it may show up on any background checks that potential employers run. It may last for at least the next five years, but the actual length of time varies by state.

Subsequent arrests are a common reason convictions stick around longer. Specifically, if you're convicted of a second or third DWI, prior convictions will likely affect your sentencing even if they happened years ago.

DUI/DWI/OUI Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What happens when you get a DUI?

A: What happens after you get a DUI will depend on how serious your case is. In general, after being arrested, you'll have to go to an arraignment and plead guilty or not guilty. You'll also be able to ask for a jury trial.

You may want to get a lawyer to represent you for the arraignment, although it isn't necessary. Afterwards, you'll need to hire a lawyer to help you.

If you are charged with a DUI or DWI, you'll have your license taken away, and will likely have to complete an education program. Besides this, your insurance rates will likely go up. You'll also want to obtain an SR-22 form that proves you have liability insurance. To learn more about SR-22 forms, read our SR-22 DUI/DWI Insurance Form FAQ article.

Another outcome from having a DWI or DUI? It will remain on your record for five years of more. This can be an issue whenever you need to have a background check for a new job or apartment.

If you have had several drunk driving incidents, it's also possible you'll lose your car. This is rare, however. Other possible consequences include:

  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Probation
  • SCRAM bracelet

Q: Do you lose your license when you get a DUI? Do you lose it immediately?

A: Yes, it's almost guaranteed you'll lose your license if you get a DWI or DUI.

Whether or not you lose it immediately depends on your specific circumstances. In most cases, you'll be given a temporary license after the officer who arrests you confiscates your original one. You'll be able to use the temporary license until your DMV hearing.

Some instances where you will automatically have your license suspended include if:

  • You don't request a hearing
  • You refuse to give a blood sample when arrested
  • You refuse a breath or urine sample when arrested

You'll have your license suspended regardless of whether or not you get a DWI.

Q: How long do you lose your license for when you get a DUI?

A: Again, how long you lose your license for depends on your case.

If you go to court and win, you may be able to get your license back then. If you don't win, then your license will likely be taken away from you. The amount of time it takes for you to get your license back depends on several factors including:

  • Your BAC when you were arrested
  • Any prior DWIs

If you refuse to give a breath, blood, or urine sample when you're pulled over, your suspension will last between three to 12 months depending on the state you're in.

In order to get your license back, you'll probably need to complete an education or treatment program. But finishing the program doesn't necessarily mean you'll get your license back right away.

First time offenders often are able to get their license back in 90 days, but laws and cases vary. Some people may be granted limited driving privileges, such as only being able to drive to and from work.

If you don't complete a court-ordered program, you won't get your license back for awhile. And if you have several DUIs on your record, you could the right to drive for years or even permanently. Check your state laws for more information about "Habitual Offenders."

Q: Can a DUI conviction be used in a custody hearing to have someone declared an unfit parent?

A: This is a question you'll want to run by a lawyer who knows more about your current situation. That said, it’s unlikely that a DUI or DWI alone would cause a court to consider a parent "unfit." Unless, of course, the conviction indicates a problem with alcoholism or some other issue that may make someone unfit to take care of a child.

Q: What can I do if my insurance company cancels my policy?

A: If you're going to drive, you will be need the minimum car insurance required in your state. If your insurer cancels or fails to renew your policy, you can shop around and compare quotes from insurers willing to offer you coverage. Shopping around is also a great way to find the lowest insurance rates.

Q: I just applied to a nursing school that requires you to pass a background check before you can be admitted. Will the DWI I got six years ago keep me from getting in?

A: This is a hard question to answer without knowing why the school conducts background checks (and what they're looking for when they do them). One solution for you may be to bring this up with someone at the school before you apply. It's possible they won't care about your conviction or they will let you explain your situation before making a decision.

Q: Are underage DUIs treated differently than adult DUIs?

A: According to FindLaw.com, there are a different set of legal standards for drunk drivers who are under age 21. In part, that's because all states have enacted "zero-tolerance" laws that make it a criminal offense for people younger than 21 to drive with even a small amount of alcohol in their systems. This ranges from 0.00 percent to 0.02 percent BAC, depending on the state.

Q: I'm in the United States on a work visa. I just got my second DWI in two years. I'm supposed to renew my visa later this year. Will I be denied because of my DWIs?

A: An attorney (especially an expert in immigration law) would be the best person to answer this question as well. But, it seems that your two DWI convictions may keep you from staying in this country.

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