Differences Between an OWI and DUI in Indiana

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Laws on impaired driving differ from one area to another. The names for these offenses vary as well, which can make it confusing for citizens to know their rights and responsibilities. Find out the difference between OWI and DUI charges in Indiana and how they affect legal consequences.

The federal government establishes driving standards and rewards states that adopt them, but state laws generally control the rules of the road. That’s why laws on impaired driving differ from one area to another. The names for these offenses vary as well, such as OWI or DUI, which can make it confusing for citizens to know their rights and responsibilities.

What Is Drunk Driving Called in Indiana?

Indiana refers to drunk driving as Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated, commonly called OWI. Other states have a charge called Driving Under the Influence, or DUI. One main difference between OWI and DUI is that drivers don’t have to drive a car in order to be convicted. Operating a vehicle simply means turning it on. This gives officers a chance to prevent a deadly accident before it happens by arresting a drunk driver before she pulls away from the curb.

When it comes to an OWI, Indiana law falls in line with the federal standard of 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) or the presence of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs in the driver’s system. Drivers with a BAC of 0.15 percent face additional charges. Officers can also arrest drivers for refusing to take a certified breath test under Implied Consent laws.

What Is Implied Consent?

When someone is pulled over on suspicion of OWI, Indiana officers can request field sobriety tests or breathalyzer tests. Officers can also request multiple tests at different points during a stop.

While Indiana drivers can refuse to take a field sobriety test without penalty, refusing a breathalyzer test results in an immediate arrest and suspended license. Why? Under the state's implied consent law, anyone who drives a vehicle in Indiana automatically agrees to take a certified breath test upon request. Similar laws exist in most states.

What Is the Punishment for OWI in Indiana?

According to Centers for Disease Control estimates, drunk driving laws prevent tens of thousands of traffic-related deaths each year. Impaired drivers aren’t just taking risks with their own lives. They put others in harm’s way, which is why the penalties are so severe. For most, charges of OWI are misdemeanors. In some situations, charges can be upgraded to felonies.

Penalties start at a year’s license suspension, a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year in jail. Repeat offenders and those who injure or kill someone can serve up to 20 years per charge.

When Do OWIs Become Felonies?

States that adopt federal traffic guidelines benefit from federal tax dollars for projects like road repairs. They also enjoy the convenience of sharing similar statutes with nearby states, and no one has to worry about issues like the difference between OWI and DUI. In return, federal agencies have an easier time creating awareness campaigns that apply to the whole country.

Drunk driving is a major problem that causes an average of 10,000 deaths a year. That’s 31 percent of road casualties that could be prevented. Federal laws apply steeper penalties to certain incidents to discourage people who are drunk or using narcotics from getting behind the wheel.

Felony charges may apply to:

  • Impaired drivers with a previous OWI within the past five years.
  • Impaired drivers with underage passengers.
  • Impaired drivers who cause physical injury.
  • Impaired drivers who cause a fatality.

How Much Alcohol Constitutes the Legal Driving Limit?

Everyone’s body processes alcohol differently. One drink for a small, thin woman can make more of an impact than it would on a tall, overweight man. However, the average adult can have three to four beers or glasses of wine before being too impaired to drive, depending on the period of time involved. There are charts online to help drivers estimate the impact of alcohol on motor functions.

More conservative estimates on driving impairment have led some states to lower legal intoxication levels to 0.05 percent blood alcohol content (BAC). Drivers should limit themselves to one or two drinks to stay under that limit.

Differences in state laws regarding OWIs and DUIs sometimes confuse drivers. It’s important to note the differences. In states like Indiana, operating a vehicle doesn’t even have to involve a car; drivers have suffered serious consequences for operating bicycles, lawnmowers and even horses while under the influence.

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