What Is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWAI in Colorado?

Colorado DUI laws are notoriously strict.

This is due in part to the DWAI—a uniquely Coloradan charge. The only other state you can be charged with a DWAI is New York. DWAI is short for “Driving While Ability Impaired.” This is not to be confused with a DWI, which stands for “Driving While Intoxicated” and is simply another name for a DUI. DWAI is a lesser-known and generally less severe charge than a DUI. However, a DWAI is still a criminal charge with potentially serious penalties.

Colorado DWI/DUIs vs. DWAIs

Many Colorado residents and visitors may not be aware that they can be considered impaired by police officers if their BAC is below the nationwide legal limit of .08%. If an officer pulls them over because he or she believes their driving ability is impaired in some way and a breath or blood test shows that they have a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08%, they can be charged with a DWAI.

A DWAI is a misdemeanor charge, meaning though it is technically less serious than a DUI, it will still be added to a criminal record if convicted. Even worse, after the first offense, the punishments for DWI and DWAI become the same.

For example, if you have a DWAI conviction on your record and you are subsequently arrested for a DUI, the state will punish you as if you had two DUIs. The same is true if you have a DWAI on your record and are charged with a second DWAI.

According to Colorado law, it doesn’t take much to be considered impaired. The arresting officer must believe that the amount of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both “…affects the person to the slightest degree so that the person is less able than the person ordinarily would have been, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.”

Colorado Punishments and Penalties for DWAI

Unlike a DUI charge, those convicted of DWAI do not automatically lose their license on their first offense. However, they do face 8 points on their license towards suspension. Additionally, those convicted of a DWAI face a fine up to $500 and up to 180 days in jail. They may also receive up to 48 hours of community service.

As mentioned above, the charges can increase significantly with subsequent convictions—regardless of whether the previous conviction was a DWAI or a DUI. Furthermore, Colorado has no lookback period, meaning that all previous DUIs and DWAIs are relevant to your sentencing. Colorado will also account for these penalties even if they are from another state in the US.

For a second DWAI, the punishment is the same as a second DUI—up to 1 year in jail. Those convicted also face fines of up to $1,500 and 1 year of license suspension. After serving a portion of their suspension, those convicted of a DWAI may be eligible for an ignition interlock device.

Though a first time DWAI is not as serious as a DUI, it is still a misdemeanor, with potentially life-damaging consequences. If you have been arrested for a driving offense, it is incredibly important that you get in touch with an experienced Colorado DUI attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you begin building your defense strategy, the more likely you are to have a positive outcome.


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