Why does Michigan call a DUI an OWI?

OWI vs. DUI: What’s the Difference Between An OWI and a DUI?

Across the United States, a driving under the influence (DUI) charge is the crime of driving or operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or under the influence of alcohol. However, you may have noticed that in Michigan, this is known as a operating/driving while intoxicated (OWI) charge.

Is the name change simply a matter of semantics? Or is there more to it?


Simply put, the term DUI and OWI are both acronyms that are used interchangeably to describe driving/operating while intoxicated.

While states use one acronym over the other, both define the same crime: no matter what state you’re in, you cannot operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more. In fact, Utah’s legal limit is even lower at .05%!

States with OWI charges

Along with Michigan, OWI charges are listed in many other states’ statutes. This includes:

Keep in mind that consequences vary state-by-state for first, second and third time offenders.

What does it mean when you’re charged with an OWI in Michigan?

According to Michigan law, an OWI criminal charge happens when an impaired person under the influence of drugs or alcohol puts the vehicle in a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision (i.e. if the engine is on and if the vehicle is in gear). Usually this involves driving your car on the road, but you can also get a drunk driving charge simply by sitting in your parked car!

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While the usage of OWI and DUI terms differ by each state, the seriousness of these drunk driving offenses remains the same. By hiring a dedicated and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, your chances of license suspension and jail time decrease and your chances of returning to a normal life post-arrest significantly increase.