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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

DUI vs. OWI vs. DWI: Criminal Lawyer Explains

The acronym for DUI is widely known. We hear it and see it in our national media. We know it to mean “driving under the influence,” or, drunk driving. But here in Iowa, the criminal law defines drunk driving as something similar, but not identical, to DUI.


First, Iowa Code Section 321J.2 criminalizes operation, not mere driving, of a motor vehicle while under the influence. This is important for two reason. First, a motorist need not be driving at all to operate a motor vehicle. He or she need only turn a key. Moreover, a motor vehicle does not need to be a car. It could be any motor vehicle, like a moped, tractor, ATV, or even snowmobile.


In fact, the Iowa Supreme Court has held that someone operating a snowmobile down the center of a frozen river was operating while under the influence in violation of Iowa Code Section 321J.2.


No car nor roadway is required to violate Iowa’s drunk driving law.


So why have any of the acronyms? Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is has taken on the mantle of training law enforcement academy trainers—by providing training materials, research, studies, and standardization of field sobriety testing throughout the country. Yet, each state defines its own drunk driving law differently.


To satisfy the standards of all 50 states, the NHTSA has indicated that DUI, DWI, and OWI are roughly the same because what they train on is the intoxication element of DUI, DWI, and OWI. They leave it to individual law enforcement agencies and state lawmakers to decide what entails the driving, or, operation, element.


Suffice it to say that, while DUI is universally recognized as a drunk driving shorthand, or, acronym, that Iowa’s law is known as Operating While Under the Influence or, in the alternative, Operating While Intoxicated.


If you have been arrested for Operating While Intoxicated, or, OWI, in Iowa, sometimes called DUI in other states, contact us for an initial consultation.




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