If you look at information online about driving while intoxicated in Indiana, you’ll find the terms OWI and DUI. This leaves many people wondering “What’s the difference between OWI vs DUI in Indiana?”

The short answer is that Indiana law uses the term OWI to describe driving under the influence, and it means the same thing as DUI.

If you or someone you know is facing charges related to OWI, it’s crucial to understand the implications of these charges and take action to protect your rights. This is where an Indianapolis DUI lawyer can help you.

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OWI vs DUI in Indiana: Is There a Difference?

In Indiana, OWI and DUI (Driving Under the Influence) are terms often used interchangeably to refer to impaired driving offenses. The legal statutes in Indiana do not make a distinction between OWI and DUI. Instead, the state employs the term OWI to encompass various forms of impaired driving.

The Meaning of OWI and DUI


This term is the acronym for “driving under the influence.” More than half of the states use this terminology for drinking and driving. DUI also includes driving under the influence of drugs.


This term is the acronym for “operating while intoxicated” and refers to driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is less commonly used than DUI. Besides Indiana, other states that have adopted it are Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa.

OWI vs DUI in Indiana

Definition of OWI in Indiana Law

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) in Indiana refers to the act of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

You can be charged with OWI if you operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or more. It’s important to note that the BAC limits for commercial drivers and underage drivers are lower.

If your BAC is below 0.08%, the police need evidence that you are too intoxicated to drive to arrest you for OWI. This evidence could include erratic driving, your behavior during the traffic stop, and your performance during field sobriety tests.

You can be charged with OWI/DUI for operating a vehicle with Schedule I or Schedule II in your system. This includes both prescription and illegal drugs.

BAC Limits in Indiana

The standard BAC limit in Indiana is 0.08%. This means you can be charged with a DUI/OWI if you operate a vehicle when your BAC is below 0.08%, police may charge you with DUI if your driving is impaired by drugs or alcohol.

The BAC limit for commercial drivers is 0.04%. Under Indiana’s zero-tolerance law, drivers under 21 can be charged with OWI for having a BAC of .02% or more.

Why Does Indiana Use OWI vs DUI?

The term OWI reflects a broader scope of impairment beyond just alcohol, encompassing the influence of drugs as well. By using the term OWI, Indiana acknowledges the various substances that can impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.

The term also reflects how Indiana OWI/DUI laws cover many types of vehicles besides just cars and trucks. Indiana Code 9-13-2-196 states that for OWI, vehicle means “a device for transportation by land or air” with only electric personal assistive mobility devices excluded. This broad definition includes boats, off-road vehicles, mopeds, and even bikes.

Additionally, police in Indiana can arrest someone who is sitting in a car but not “driving” it. You can be charged with DUI if the car is off but you’re in the driver’s seat. You could drive off at any moment and Indiana law recognizes this.

Indiana law uses OWI to refer to DUI

OWI vs DUI Terminology in Other States

While Indiana predominantly uses the term OWI, several other states also utilize similar terminology such as DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or OUI (Operating Under the Influence) to describe impaired driving offenses.

Here is a summary of the terms for DUI offenses in different states from intoxalock.com:

  • DUI: DUI (Driving Under the Influence) is used in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
  • OWI: Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is used in Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
  • DWI: Driving While Intoxicated, or DWI, is used in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas.
  • OUI: Operating Under the Influence is used along with DUI in Massachusetts, and it’s exclusively used for impaired driving in Maine.
  • OVI: Operating a Vehicle Impaired is used in Ohio.

Some states use different terms to underline the differences between various levels of intoxication.

One such state is South Carolina. The laws there make the distinction between “DUI” and ”DUAC” by blood alcohol concentration. For DUI, the focus is on the driver’s impairment. For DUAC, the focus is on the blood alcohol concentration exceeding the 0.08% threshold.

What Happens If You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test?

If police think you’ve been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they’ll ask you to do some tests to check. These include field sobriety tests and chemical tests like a breathalyzer. The chemical tests can show how much alcohol is in your body.

You’re free to refuse to take field sobriety tests. However, there are consequences for refusing to take chemical tests such as a breath, urine, or blood test if police ask. You could lose your driving privileges for up to two years, and you won’t be allowed to get a restricted license.

This punishment for refusing is separate from any penalties you might get if you’re found guilty of driving while intoxicated. Even if you say no to chemical testing, the police can still arrest you if they have other evidence that you were driving while intoxicated.

police cruiser lights, DUI stop at night time

Penalties for OWI/DUI in Indiana

The penalties for DUI in Indiana can vary depending on factors such as prior offenses, BAC level, and whether the incident resulted in injury or property damage.

First Offense

A first OWI conviction in Indiana with no aggravating factors is a Class C misdemeanor. The penalties may include up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Having a BAC of .15% or higher or endangering the lives of others elevates the charge to a Class A misdemeanor. This carries up to 1 year in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Depending on the circumstances, other possible penalties for a first OWI include:

  • License suspension up to 2 years
  • Substance abuse assessment
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) requirement.

Second Offense

The penalties for a second OWI/DUI within 7 years can include:

  • 5 days to 3 years in jail
  • A fine of up to $10,0000
  • License suspension for 180 days to 2 years
  • Substance abuse assessment and education
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) requirement.

Third Offense

The penalties for a third DUI offense in Indiana can include:

  • 10 days to 3 years in jail
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • License Suspension for 1 to 10 years.
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) requirement

For a third or subsequent DUI, you can be sentenced as a habitual substance offender. This can add one to eight years to your jail sentence.

OWI and DUI penalties in Indiana concept

Why You Should Hire an Indianapolis DUI Lawyer

A DUI lawyer in Indianapolis can provide invaluable assistance if you’re facing charges related to Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). Here’s how a DUI lawyer can help you.

Legal Expertise

DUI lawyers are well-versed in Indiana DUI laws, legal procedures, and courtroom protocols. They understand the nuances of the law and can navigate the complexities of your case effectively.

As a nationally recognized DUI expert with over 25 years of experience, Charles Rathburn is one of the best-trained DUI lawyers in the United States and the State of Indiana in this highly specific area of the law.

Your DUI attorney will understand the charges you are facing and develop the best defense strategy.

Challenging Evidence and Procedures

DUI lawyers are skilled at identifying procedural errors or violations of your rights that may have occurred during your arrest, the administration of breath and field sobriety tests, and the collection and handling of evidence.

They can challenge the admissibility of evidence obtained unlawfully and seek to have it excluded from your case.

As a certified phlebotomist and a recognized expert on breath testing and field sobriety tests, Charles Rathburn is well-prepared to spot any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and challenge evidence where appropriate.

Defense Representation

Your DUI lawyer will serve as your advocate throughout the legal process. They will represent you during court appearances, negotiations with prosecutors, and any hearings related to your case.

Your lawyer will work tirelessly to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome for your situation.

Plea Bargains

If going to trial is not the best option for you, your DUI lawyer can negotiate with prosecutors and strive to reach a favorable plea agreement. This may involve reducing charges and minimizing penalties.

Minimizing Penalties

If you are convicted of DUI, your lawyer will work to minimize the potential consequences, such as fines, license suspension, mandatory alcohol education programs, and jail time. For example, your attorney may advocate for probation or community service instead of jail time.

DUI lawyers concept with phrase DUI law on a piece of paper

Contact Rathburn Law Office P.C. Today

When you need a DUI lawyer in Indianapolis, Ratburn Law Office stands ready to provide you with dedicated legal representation. Our experienced team understands the intricacies of DUI law and is committed to advocating for your rights every step of the way.

With our unwavering dedication, we strive to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Trust Ratburn Law Office to navigate the complexities of your DUI matter with professionalism, diligence, and a steadfast commitment to securing your future.

Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation at 317.671.8965.

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With over 25 years of experience, Rathburn Law is your ideal choice. If you or a loved one is facing a DUI charge, Reach out to us today!