DWI Accident LawyersLast updated on: November 28, 2020
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If you have been injured in a drunk or impaired driving accident, you may be entitled to compensation for damages. At Zinda Law Group, our experienced DWI accident lawyers may help you seek the maximum compensation possible for injuries incurred as a result of the accident. Our firm handles numerous DUI and DWI accident cases throughout Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Call Zinda Law Group today at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free case evaluation with an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer.
The Differences Between DWI and DUI
The differences between DUIs and DWIs are not always apparent and can vary from state to state. There is no national or federal definition for either term because generally, states establish and enforce laws protecting the welfare, safety, and health of the public. Therefore, the onus falls on state legislatures to create laws that define particular criminal conduct and proscribe their accompanying penalties.
Although both acronyms have worked their way into common parlance, many states define and punish these two driving offenses differently. These differences can bear both legal and financial consequences to the offending party. Thus, it is very important to know the particular state and/or jurisdiction in which the offense was committed to determine which laws and penalties apply.
Generally speaking, DUI is the acronym for Driving Under the Influence. The particular state’s DUI law can pertain to either the influence of drugs or alcohol or both. A DUI offense is most often assessed by using a breathalyzer test to find the blood alcohol content/concentration (BAC) of the driver. While the federal limit for BAC when driving is 0.08%, some states have set stricter limits for the maximum amount of alcohol that drivers can have in their systems while operating a motor vehicle. Exceeding the federal BAC limit and driving results in a “per se,” or textbook, violation of the law. For underage drivers, some states have passed zero-tolerance policies or have established laws to further decrease the permissible BAC even lower.
Although using a breathalyzer is the usual means of issuing a DUI, in some states, a DUI can be issued without the officer checking the driver’s BAC and instead opt for a field sobriety test. Field sobriety tests occur after the initial traffic stop and assess the functionality, motor skills, and reaction times of the suspected impaired driver.
On the other hand, DWI is the acronym for either Driving While Impaired or Driving While Intoxicated. In states that classify a DWI as “driving while intoxicated,” the term is essentially a synonym for a DUI. Other states that classify the DWI as “driving while impaired,” do so to differentiate drivers who are operating a motor vehicle under some impairment other than alcohol. In these jurisdictions, any impairment that hinders one’s ability to drive (including driving while falling asleep, driving while physically incapable of safely controlling the vehicle, using recreational or prescription drugs, etc.) can be grounds for criminal charges.
Regardless of the acronym used, either offense means the driver exhibited some degree of negligence or dangerous behavior, which prompted an arresting officer to believe the driver was too impaired to be operating a vehicle safely. If you have been injured by someone that you suspect was impaired, you should first contact local law enforcement and later a personal injury attorney to pursue a claim against the impaired driver.
If you have been criminally charged with a DUI or a DWI or if you fear you may become civilly liable for actions taken while impaired, you should contact a defense attorney in your jurisdiction with DUI/DWI experience.
How DWI’s and DUI’s Vary by State
As explained above, the definitions and criminal consequences for DUIs and DWIs vary from state to state. Below are the differences and similarities between the two driving offenses in the following states:
In Arizona, arresting officers officially use the term DUI to refer to both drunk and/or drugged driving. Therefore, although some people still use DWI and DUI interchangeably, there is no legal distinction between a DUI and DWI in Arizona.
Under Arizona’s law, all motorists are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle:
- If they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more; or,
- If they are under the influence of any drugs that impair their reaction time even to the slightest degree.
For minors in particular, Arizona also has a zero-tolerance policy that makes it illegal for drivers under the age of twenty-one years to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
Additionally, the fines and penalties for DUIs vary in severity in accordance with the degree of impairment of the driver and the prior number of DUIs received by the driver.
An issue of contention and variability under Arizona Law is what precisely constitutes “driving” or “operating a vehicle.” Arizona courts have typically considered that an impaired or drunk occupant of a vehicle was “driving” or “operating” it if they had actual physical control over it at the time of the arrest. Some factors that a judge or jury might consider in determining whether a driver was in actual physical control include:
- Whether the engine was running;
- Whether the vehicle’s key was in the ignition;
- Where the driver was positioned in the vehicle;
- Whether the driver was conscious;
- Whether the vehicle’s headlights were illuminated; and,
- Where the vehicle was stopped.
Under Colorado law, impaired drivers may be charged with a DUI (i.e. driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or some combination thereof), or a DWAI (i.e. driving while ability impaired), or both. A DWAI is considered a lesser charge, and generally results when a driver’s BAC ranges from 0.05% to 0.079%. In contrast, if the driver’s BAC is 0.08% or greater, or if the driver is determined to be impaired by drugs, they may be charged with DUI.
The fines and penalties for DUIs and DWAIs vary in severity in accordance with the degree of impairment of the driver and the prior number of impaired driving convictions the driver has received. The court will generally impose both administrative penalties and criminal penalties. Administrative penalties may include license revocation and the installation of ignition interlock devices, which requires drivers to blow into a breathalyzer and receive a 0.0 BAC prior to allowing the engine to start. Criminal penalties may include jail time, fines, and fees, as well as public service.
Under New Mexico law, arresting officers officially use the term Driving While Intoxicated or DWI to refer to both drunk and drugged driving. Therefore, anyone in New Mexico that operates a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher may be subject to a DWI. Additionally, New Mexico law holds that drivers under 21 years of age may be subject to a DWI if their BAC equals or exceeds 0.02%.
New Mexico law also imposes an “implied consent” requirement, whereby all drivers who are lawfully arrested for a DWI must submit to a blood or breath test if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is under the influence of an intoxicant. While a driver may refuse to submit to testing, they will still be subject to arrest and will immediately have their license revoked for approximately one year and will not be allowed the opportunity for an ignition interlock device.
The principal factor in determining the punishment for any given DWI offense in New Mexico depends on the age of the driver and the number of prior driving offenses the driver has received.
Under Texas law, authorities officially use the term “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) instead of “driving under the influence” (DUI). Like most states, Texas law prohibits all motorists from operating a motor vehicle if their BAC equals or exceeds 0.08%, or if they are under the influence and impairment of drugs that inhibit their ability to operate a motor vehicle. Texas, like Arizona, has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, which makes it illegal for them to operate a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
Again, like Arizona, an occupant of a vehicle may be charged with a DWI even if their vehicle is not in motion. In these cases, although the vehicle may have been stationary upon arrest, the prosecution still needs to prove the occupant was “operating” or in “actual physical control” of a vehicle before a DWI charge will be sustained. The factors that a judge or jury might consider in determining whether a driver was in actual are physical control are the same as above.
Texas law also imposes an “implied consent” requirement, whereby all drivers who are lawfully arrested for a DWI are required to submit to a blood or breath test. While a motorist may still refuse to submit to testing, they will likely still be arrested and immediately have their license revoked for 180 days for a first offense and for two years for any subsequent offense.
How Often do Drugged Driving Accidents Happen?
Drugged driving refers to driving or operating a vehicle while impaired due to the intoxicating effects of recent drug use. Drugged driving can be a dangerous side effect of both over-the-counter or prescription drugs, as well as illegal drugs or narcotics. The effects of specific intoxicants on driving skills vary depending on how the substance interacts with the brain and impairs the driver.
Marijuana and opioids, like alcohol, impair the ability to drive because they diminish drivers’ coordination, judgment, and reaction times. Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, can likewise impair the ability to drive by making drivers more aggressive and reckless. Prescription drugs and over the counter medicines can also impair the ability to drive because they can cause extreme drowsiness, dizziness, or make it difficult to see.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2018, 20.5 million people aged 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year and another 12.6 million drove under the influence of illicit drugs. The same survey indicated that men are more likely than women to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It further demonstrated that a higher percentage of adults aged 21 to 25 drive after taking drugs or drinking than do young adults aged 16 to 20 or adults 26 or older.
Furthermore, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 43.6% of fatally injured drivers in 2016 tested positive for drugs, and over half of those drivers were positive for two or more drugs at the time of the crash. This figure demonstrates an increase of 24% from the prior decade.
While these statistics are shocking, the decisions that lead to these catastrophic events are entirely avoidable.
Signs of an Impaired Driver
Perhaps the most effective way to avoid collisions with drunk or impaired drivers is to drive defensively. Defensive driving is a tactic that aims to reduce collisions through increased driver awareness. A defensive driver tries to anticipate dangerous situations that may arise as a result of adverse road conditions, as well as other drivers’ mistakes. Some important signs that may indicate that a driver should start acting defensively because a fellow motorist may be driving while impaired include:
- Failing to turn on headlights
- Sudden acceleration or deceleration
- Excessive tailgating or following too closely
- Weaving between or crossing over multiple lanes of traffic
- Driving on the shoulder or outside of the boundary lines of the road
- Nearly colliding with stationary objects or other vehicles
- Brake slapping or sudden stops
- Rapidly shifting in and out of traffic
- Signaling that is inconsistent with the driver’s actions
- Delayed responses to traffic signals
- Driving more than 10 mph below the speed limit
- Abruptly or illegally turning
A Zinda Law Group Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer MAY BE ABLE TO Help You
At Zinda Law Group, our DWI accident attorneys have helped many accident survivors and their surviving beneficiaries get their lives back on track after suffering injuries, death, and financial losses. We have the knowledge and resources necessary to help you seek maximum compensation for any associated medical bills, lost income, property damage, pain and suffering, and all the other costs your accident has caused.
Our firm believes that impaired and drunk driving accident victims should not have to worry about their ability to afford high-quality legal representation. This is why we offer 100% free consultations. Zinda Law Group operates on a contingency fee basis, meaning you will pay nothing unless we win your case. That’s our No Win, No Fee Guarantee.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a drunk or impaired driving accident, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to receive your free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys. We are also offering free virtual consultations during the COVID-19 crisis.
Meetings with attorneys are available by appointment only.