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What is The Difference Between a DUI and DWAI in Colorado?

Posted on 05/31/23

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious issue, affecting not only the people behind the wheel but also other road users. In Colorado, two separate charges related to this behavior are DUI and DWAI. While they might seem similar at first glance, it’s important for drivers to understand the key differences between them, and the potential consequences of violating these laws.

DUI: Driving Under the Influence

In Colorado, a DUI refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drivers who have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher or drivers with drugs in their system can be charged with a DUI. This BAC level is considered the threshold at which an individual is deemed legally intoxicated, and their normal mental or physical faculties are significantly impaired.

DWAI: Driving While Ability Impaired

Another charge that Colorado drivers should be aware of is DWAI – driving while ability impaired. DWAI is a lesser offense compared to DUI, and it occurs when a driver has a BAC between .05% and .07% or when the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

First-Time DUI Penalties 

While penalties can vary based on the specific circumstances of the case, a first-time DUI offense in Colorado typically carries the following repercussions:

  • A jail sentence of 5 days to 1 year
  • Fines up to $1,000
  • 48 to 96 hours of community service
  • Driver’s license suspension up to 9 months

Additionally, Colorado has implemented the Persistent Drunk Driver (PDD) designation, which applies to individuals with a BAC of 0.15% or higher. These drivers are treated as repeat DUI offenders, even if it’s their first offense.

First-Time DWAI Penalties 

A first-time DWAI conviction carries less severe penalties than a DUI, with the following punishments often imposed:

  • 2 to 180 days in jail
  • Fines of $200 to $500
  • 24 to 48 hours of community service
  • Eight demerit points on the driver’s license

Unlike a DUI, there is no automatic license suspension for a first-time DWAI offense.

Subsequent Offenses 

If you find yourself with a second or third DUI or DWAI conviction, the penalties become substantially more severe, with fines ranging from $600 to $1,500. Along with hefty fines, a jail sentence of 10 days to 1 year can be imposed, depending on the severity of the incident and any past convictions.

In addition, the convicted driver must complete 48 to 120 hours of community service, further impacting their personal and professional life. There can also be extended license suspensions, and mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID).

Fourth DUI or DWAI Conviction: A Felony Charge

A fourth DUI or DWAI conviction in Colorado is considered a class 4 felony, and the penalties become even more severe. Fines can range from $2,000 to $500,000, which could devastate a person’s financial situation for years to come. 

Additionally, a fourth-time offender faces two to six years in Colorado State Prison, followed by a mandatory three-year parole period. These consequences have lifelong implications, further reinforcing the need to understand the gravity of DUI and DWAI charges and take steps to avoid them.

If you need help with a DUI charge, we’re here to help. Contact our Colorado Springs DUI attorney today to schedule a free consultation.