Why does Michigan call a DUI an OWI?

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

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


Simply put, a DUI and an 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 BAC 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 for first, second and third offenses vary state-by-state.

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

According to Michigan law, an OWI can be charged when an impaired person (for alcohol: a BAC of .08 or higher) 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 an OWI simply by sitting in your parked car!

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