Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Washington State has one of the most stringent laws when it comes to intoxicated driving, and it is crucial for you as a resident or visitor to understand the differences between Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated/Impaired (DWI). According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, there were nearly 9,000 DUI arrests in 2019. This informative article will delve into the complexities of these charges, their legal implications, and how they are treated under Washington State’s law.

Difference between DUI and DWI

In some states across America, DUI and DWI have different meanings and carry different penalties. However, in Washington State, these two terms are often used interchangeably to refer to the same offense. Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Section 46.61.502, it is illegal for a person to drive a vehicle if they are under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug. Whether referred to as DUI or DWI, this statute covers both terms.

Therefore, in Washington State context, there is technically no difference between DUI and DWI. Both charges indicate that a driver was operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both. However, the specific charge that will be pressed against an offender depends on various factors including their blood alcohol content (BAC), previous convictions, and whether any aggravating factors were present at the time of arrest.

Legal Implications of DUI/DWI in Washington State

The legal implications of being charged with DUI/DWI in Washington State can be severe. First-time offenders face a minimum of one day in jail or 15 days of electronic home monitoring. The court may also impose a fine ranging between $990.50 and $5,000. The offender’s driver’s license may be suspended for a period of 90 days to one year. Additionally, the offender may have to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle and attend alcohol or substance abuse education programs.

For repeat offenders, the penalties become more severe. The minimum jail sentence increases, as does the fine range, and the license suspension periods become longer. A third offense within seven years leads, at a minimum, to a mandatory 90 days in jail and 120 days of electronic home monitoring, fines up to $5,000, and a license suspension for three to four years.

Besides these penalties, being charged with DUI/DWI can also have long-term consequences on your finances and personal life. For example, it can lead to increased car insurance premiums, employment difficulties especially for jobs that require driving, and potentially strained personal relationships due to the stigma associated with drunk driving.

Measurement of Impairment in Washington State

In Washington State, law enforcement officers determine whether a driver is impaired using several methods. One common method is through a breathalyzer test that measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath. If you are over the legal limit of 0.08% BAC for adults 21 and over, or 0.02% BAC for those under 21 or commercial drivers, you can be arrested and charged with DUI/DWI.

In addition to breath tests, officers can also use field sobriety tests to gauge a driver’s impairment. These tests can involve tasks such as walking in a straight line and turning, standing on one leg, or following an object with your eyes. If you perform poorly on these tests, you may be arrested on suspicion of DUI/DWI.

Furthermore, under RCW Section 46.20.308 (also known as Washington’s implied consent law), any person who operates a vehicle within the state is considered to have given their consent to a test of their breath or blood for the purpose of determining alcohol concentration. Refusal to submit to such a test can result in an automatic license suspension and can be used as evidence against you in court.

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Defending Against DUI/DWI Charges

If you are charged with DUI/DWI, it is crucial to retain an experienced DUI lawyer who specializes in these types of cases. The lawyer can analyze the circumstances surrounding your arrest, including the validity of field sobriety tests and breathalyzer results, and they can challenge any evidence that was unlawfully obtained.

Among the possible defenses are proving that the officer did not have probable cause to stop your vehicle, that the field sobriety tests were not properly administered, or that there were errors in the breathalyzer equipment or procedures. A skilled DUI attorney can potentially reduce your charges, negotiate for lesser penalties, or even get your case dismissed.


In conclusion, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated/Impaired (DWI) are serious offenses in Washington State that carry hefty penalties and long-lasting consequences. Regardless of whether you call it DUI or DWI, it is illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and law enforcement agencies are vigilant about enforcing this law. Should you find yourself facing these charges, it is essential to seek legal counsel from someone like VanWa Legal immediately to protect your rights and navigate the complex legal proceedings.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is DUI a felony in Washington State?

No, not all DUI cases are classified as felonies. A DUI becomes a felony in Washington State only if it’s your fourth offense within ten years, or if you’ve previously been convicted of any vehicular assault or vehicular homicide while under the influence.

2. What is the legal limit for DUI in Washington State?

The legal limit for a DUI charge in Washington State is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher within two hours of driving for adults 21 and over. For those under 21, a BAC of 0.02% or more can result in a DUI charge.

3. Can you refuse a breathalyzer test in Washington State?

You can refuse to take a breathalyzer test, but this refusal can be used in court as evidence of guilt and can lead to more severe penalties, including a longer license suspension.

4. What happens if you get a DUI with a CDL in Washington State?

If you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a DUI/DWI conviction will cost your CDL for either one year (for a first offense) or life (for a second or subsequent offense).

5. Are drug-related offenses classified as DUIs in Washington State?

Yes, in Washington State, the term DUI covers impairment due to drugs as well as alcohol. This includes recreational drugs, prescription medications, and over-the-counter drugs.

6. Does Washington State have an ignition interlock requirement?

Yes, individuals convicted of a DUI in Washington State are required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle.

7. What are the penalties for a first-time DUI offense in Washington State?

For a first offense, you may face a fine of $990.50 to $5,000, a minimum day in jail and up to one year in jail, and suspension of your license for 90 days to two year.

8. Are field sobriety tests used in Washington State?

Yes, law enforcement officials in Washington State use various tests to determine if a person is under the influence, including field sobriety tests.

9. Can I have a DUI conviction expunged from my record in Washington State?

A DUI cannot be expunged in Washington, but certain reduced charges from a DUI may be eligible to later be expunged. However, specific conditions must be met, and expungement is not guaranteed.

10. What does DWI stand for?

DWI stands for “Driving While Intoxicated”. However, it’s important to note that Washington State doesn’t utilize the term DWI within its law.

11. Do penalties increase for subsequent DUI offenses?

Yes, for each subsequent DUI offense within seven years of the first violation in Washington State, penalties become increasingly severe.

12. What happens if a minor gets a DUI in Washington State?

For drivers under 21 years old, a BAC of 0.02% or above can lead to criminal charges. The state has stringent laws to discourage underage drinking and driving.

13. Is it possible to defend against a DUI charge?

There are several defense strategies that can be employed when facing a DUI charge in Washington State. These can include questioning the accuracy of the BAC tests, the legality of the traffic stop, or whether your rights were violated during the arrest process.

14. Are blood tests used to determine DUI in Washington State?

Yes, blood tests can be used along with field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests to determine if a driver is under the influence.

15. What happens if I refuse a blood test in Washington State?

There is no legal obligation to submit to a request to draw your blood.  Unless police get a search warrant to draw your blood, you are free to refuse to provide your blood.  If they get a search warrant, however, refusing to cooperate could lead to additional criminal charges of obstructing a law enforcement officer or potentially worse.

Keep the Roads Safe

Remember that the primary goal of these policies is to ensure safety on the roads. Avoid getting behind the wheel if intoxicated. Opt for public transportation, ride-sharing services, or designate a sober driver. Let’s all contribute to safer roads in Washington State and beyond.

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