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OWI vs. DUI – What’s the Difference?

OWI vs. DUI  – What’s the Difference?OWI Vs. DUI

Wisconsin’s Operating While Impaired (OWI) law and Illinois’ Driving under the Influence (DUI) law vary in many ways, and it’s important for Illinois residents charged with an OWI in Wisconsin to understand how these two state laws differ.  For example, fines and subsequent driving consequences for a first offense may result in significantly different penalties depending on whether the offender is charged in Wisconsin or Illinois.


Wisconsin’s “Operating While Impaired” law defines intoxication in four ways: (1) Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or greater; (2) Driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, including alcohol, legal prescription medications, illegal or controlled drugs, or other chemical substances; (3) Driving with a detectable amount of any restricted controlled substance in the blood stream; or (4) Driving while under the influence of a controlled substance or any other drug.  Numbers 2, 3, and 4 sound similar, but they cover a wide variety of intoxicating substances including valid prescription medications and illegally-obtained controlled substances.


In Illinois, “Driving under the Influence” is defined as operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, other drugs (including cannabis) prescribed for medical purposes, or intoxicating compounds and methamphetamine.  A driver is legally considered to be under the influence if he has a blood-alcohol content of .08 or more, has used any illegal substance or is impaired by medication. Although Illinois does allow for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, a driver may not operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis prescribed for medicinal purposes, and may not transport medical cannabis in a vehicle unless it is stored in a tamper-evident container and kept in an area that is inaccessible while the vehicle is in motion.


In Wisconsin, a first offense OWI is a civil rather than criminal offense.  A first offense does not carry mandatory jail time, but fines and other penalties are imposed.  This offense will result in a fine ranging from $150 to $300 plus a $365 OWI surcharge, license revocation for six to nine months, an alcohol or drug assessment and, if BAC is 0.15 or more, it is required that the offender’s vehicle be equipped with an Ignition Interlock Device for one year.


Illinois has an aggressive anti-DUI program and a first offense DUI carries much harsher penalties than Wisconsin.  A first offense DUI in Illinois is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which carries with it possible imprisonment of up to one year and fines of up to $2,500.   A first offense also requires a minimum revocation of driving privileges for one year (two years if driver is under 21), suspension of vehicle registration, and requires a first-time DUI offender to install an Ignition Interlock Device.  Furthermore, if BAC is 0.16 or more, the mandatory minimum fine is $500 and there is a mandatory minimum 100 hours of community service.


Wisconsin and Illinois are both zero tolerance states when a driver under the age of 21 is convicted of driving under the influence. In Wisconsin, a first offense OWI carries similar consequences to that for adults, but harsher penalties arise when multiple underage convictions occur.  A first offense underage conviction carries fines ranging from $250-$500, a 30- to 90-day license suspension, and an alcohol assessment.  In Illinois, a driver under the age of 21 convicted of a first offense DUI will face revocation of his or her driving privileges for a minimum of two years.  However, it is at the discretion of the investigating officer whether a traffic stop results in a Zero Tolerance or a DUI charge, or both.