If you’re dealing with a DWI charge (or a loved one is) here in New York, you may wonder what the difference is between DWI and DUI. The latter, which means “driving under the influence,” is perhaps the more commonly used term around the county.

However, laws involving driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs vary by state, as do the names. Therefore, if you’re arrested somewhere else in the Northeast or anywhere else in the U.S., you may find yourself facing different charges. All are serious, however, and can involve significant consequences.

In New York, DWI means “driving while intoxicated.” There’s also another potential charge, which is DWAI — “driving while ability impaired.” A person may be hit with a DWAI charge if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is under the legal limit, but at least .05%. While DWAI is typically a less serious charge, both can result in a jail sentence, fines and/or the loss of a driver’s license.

Some states have both DUI and DWI charges. When they do, a DUI is typically used when someone is suspected of being impaired by alcohol. A DWI, which often stands for “driving while impaired” in these states, is generally used for those believed to be impaired by drugs. DWI is typically a more serious charge than a DUI.

New York also has a Zero Tolerance Law that makes it illegal for any driver under 21 to have any amount of alcohol in their system. Other states have similar laws for young drivers.

Regardless of whether you’ve been charged with DWI, DWAI or DUI, it likely began with a traffic stop when a law enforcement officer determined that you weren’t driving safely. Because impaired drivers are a danger to themselves and others, these charges aren’t treated lightly by prosecutors and judges. Therefore, if you’re facing one of them, it’s wise to have the guidance of an experienced attorney who can protect your rights, present your case and work to mitigate the consequences on your life.