DUI, OWI and OUIL - The Alphabet Soup of Michigan Drunk Driving Charges

Admittedly, it sometimes become confusing and a bit difficult to keep track of and understand the differences between all the terms used to describe a drunk driving charge.

The most common term is “DUI,” yet Michigan does not have, and has never had a law that uses those letters. Up until a few years ago, the Michigan law used the term “OUIL,” which meant “operating under the influence of liquor.” The legal BAC (meaning bodily alcohol content, and usually understood as either breath-test or blood-test result) standard under that now obsolete OUIL law for drunk driving was .10.

Under threat from the Federal Government to change the legal standard for drunk driving from .10 to .08, or else lose federal highway funds, Michigan’s legislature enacted a new set of laws dropping the standard for drunk driving from .10 to .08, and changing the name of the offense from “operating under the influence of liquor” to “operating while intoxicated.”

Beside the most common term, “DUI,” the following terms are frequently used when talking about a drunk driving charge:

  • DWI
  • DUIL
  • OUI

Beyond all that, Michigan has always had a “lesser offense” law covering what’s known as “impaired driving.” When the OUIL laws were in effect, the legal standard for “impaired driving” was .07 (actually, .07 up to .10).

When the State Legislature changed the drunk driving laws from OUIL to OWI, and the BAC standard for drunk driving changed from .10 to .08, the BAC standard for impaired driving was eliminated, but not the offense itself. This means that the “impaired” charge still exists.

The bottom line is that almost everyone charged with a drunk driving offense in Michigan is facing an “OWI” charge. Yet for all of this discussion, almost every one of those people will begin looking for a lawyer to help them by searching for the term “DUI.”

Some things never change….

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