The Difference Between a DWI and a DUI

In New Jersey, DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) is the most commonly used acronym for drunk driving offenses. However, some people also use DUI (Driving Under the Influence), making it seem like they are two different charges. But are DWI and DUI separate charges in New Jersey?

No. In NJ, DWI and DUI are terms that can be used interchangeably when referring to the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Since drunk driving charges carry severe penalties, it’s crucial to know your options and have expert legal representation. At the Law Offices of Christopher L. Baxter, we strive to provide our clients with personalized legal representation for the best possible outcome.

Contact our team today for an initial consultation and review of potential defenses for your DUI/DWI case.

What is DWI in NJ?

In New Jersey, DWI is driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. But even if your BAC is below 0.08%, you can still face DWI charges if your driving is impaired.

Impairment can result from drugged driving, including:

  • Cannabis, including marijuana and edibles.

  • Cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine.

  • Prescription opioids like Percocet or Vicodin.

  • Other prescription drugs that reduce alertness and reaction time, such as benzodiazepines and muscle relaxants.

BAC legal limits in NJ

The legal 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for operating a motor vehicle applies to standard drivers 21 years of age or older. Exceeding this BAC limit can lead to a DWI per se charge, where the prosecutor only needs to prove that you operated a motor vehicle with a BAC level above the legal limit.

For commercial drivers (those operating buses or large trucks), the BAC limit is stricter at 0.04%. Underage drivers face an even lower BAC limit of less than 0.01%.

Implied consent

According to the law of implied consent, when you obtain or maintain your driver’s license in New Jersey, you automatically consent to undergo a breath or chemical test to determine your BAC levels during a traffic stop.

For a traffic stop to be valid, the police officer must have probable cause to believe that you are driving under the influence. If they have such cause and you refuse to submit to the chemical breath or blood test, your refusal can be interpreted as an admission of guilt, leading to serious consequences.

Consequences of breath test refusal

Refusing to provide a breath sample in New Jersey carries mandatory penalties. For the first refusal offense, the penalties include a fine of $300 to $500, and 12 hours of alcohol education classes.

Additionally, there’s a requirement for mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device for 9-15 months.

Second offense

For a second offense of breath test refusal, you’ll get:

  • A $500 to $1,000 fine

  • License suspension for one year

  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for the license suspension period and 2-4 years after license restoration

  • $1,000 DMV surcharge charged each year for three years

Third offense

A third conviction carries harsh penalties as below:

  • An eight-year license suspension

  • A $1,000 fine plus a $100 surcharge for a drunk driver enforcement

  • Participate in an alcohol education program

  • Installation of an IID during license suspension and 2-4 years after license restoration

Drunk driving penalties

The penalties for DWI/DUI in New Jersey vary according to the severity of the offense. They can include:

  • Mandatory fines
  • Loss of driving privileges
  • The installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
  • Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) education program
  • Potential jail time (starting from 30 days in jail)

Enhanced penalties may apply if it is a subsequent offense, the blood alcohol content is significantly above the legal limit, or if there were any aggravating circumstances, including an accident or injury.

Find out more about DWI penalties.

BAC testing methods

To determine your BAC levels, police officers in New Jersey use the following methods:

  • Breath tests: Breath tests are conducted using breathalyzer devices. These gadgets measure alcohol content in the breath to estimate BAC levels
  • Blood tests: Unlike breath tests, blood tests are more precise in determining BAC levels.

Measuring drug impairment

While drug impairment doesn’t have a standard breath test, police officers can use different methods to detect and assess substance impairment.

If you exhibit driving behavior that indicates impairment, like reckless driving, swerving between lanes, or driving way below or above the speed limit, you can be pulled over. During the stop, you’ll be submitted to field sobriety tests and a breath test. A low BAC level may warrant urine or blood tests to verify substance impairment.

Unlike breath tests, you’re not obligated to submit to a urine test; police officers need a warrant for this.


How long is a DWI on your record in NJ?

A DWI or DUI record remains on your driving record indefinitely in New Jersey, and expungement is not possible. However, the state has a 10-year step-down rule.

If you can maintain a clean record for at least ten years without a DWI, any subsequent charge is stepped down to the immediate lesser offense. For instance, a second DWI is reduced to a first DUI charge, and a third DWI becomes a second offense.

Do you always lose your license with a DUI in NJ?

You don’t immediately lose your license after your DUI. While your case is ongoing, your driving privileges remain intact. However, your license is suspended for 3 to 12 months for a first DWI conviction.

Subsequent DUI convictions result in longer license suspensions, ranging from two to ten years for a second or third offense.

How do I get my license back after DUI in NJ?

To have your driver’s license reinstated after a DWI conviction, you should follow the standard renewal procedures. These may include retaking your driving test. You might also have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee.

Contact defense lawyer Chris Baxter

Christopher L. Baxter is an aggressive defense attorney and our firm’s founder. He has a long-standing reputation for providing professional, tough, and relentless legal representation.

With 35 years of courtroom experience and over 3,900 DUI cases, Attorney Baxter will go above and beyond to help you obtain the most positive case results possible. As with any legal situation, the sooner you retain legal representation, the better your chances of success. Contact the Law Office of Christopher L. Baxter for the aggressive DUI defense you need!

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As a 2015 Clients’ Choice award recipient with a *10.0 Superb Avvo Rating, Attorney Baxter has demonstrated his ability to secure favorable outcomes on behalf of our clients, no matter how complex the situation may be. Although you may be worried about what the future holds, you do not have to work through this time on your own. We stand ready to relentlessly defend you from your initial consultation until the resolution of your case.

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