OWI vs. DWI vs. OWI – What’s the Difference?


Many people are confused about the terminology surrounding Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws. You’ve no doubt heard the terms OWI, DWI, and OWI – but what exactly do they mean and what’s the difference between them?

Drunk Driving Definitions First off, let’s start by defining what exactly each term means. Below is an explanation of each term and what it stands for:

  • OWI – Operating While Intoxicated
  • DWI – Driving While Intoxicated
  • DUI – Driving under the Influence

When it comes down to it, these terms all mean the same thing – that a person was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. So Why are there Different Terms? These terms have become interchangeable and generally mean the same thing. So why don’t we have just one term for drunk driving? The differences stem from each state’s specific statutes and how they define such charges. For example, here in Wisconsin, our statutes define drunk driving as OWI (Operating while Intoxicated). As a point of comparison, Minnesota uses the term DWI (Driving while Intoxicated) when dealing with drunk driving offenses. It all depends on the state and how their statutes define the charges. Bottom line, these terms are all synonymous and can be used interchangeably by the general public.