Legal terms can be confusing, and two terms that cause a lot of confusion are the charges of Operating Under the Influence (OUI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI). To complicate things even more, there is another term called Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) that gets brought up interchangeably with the other two as well.
For the sake of Massachusetts laws, Operating Under the Influence is the charge used. This slight difference in the language actually has some pretty serious distinctions in legality, actions that can qualify as offenses, and more. Legal professionals who handle drunk driving cases in Massachusetts are OUI lawyers, since there is no legal charge of DUI or DWI in the state. Read more below about the differences, and why an OUI and a DUI are actually a bit different.
Operating Under the Influence vs. Driving Under the Influence
Although they may seem to be the same thing, and in conversation can be interchanged without any confusion, there are actually some pretty significant legal distinctions between a charge of OUI and a charge of DUI. Massachusetts is one of the harshest states in the country in terms of drunk or drugged driving penalties, and the usage of the word “operating” is an indication of that strictness.
From a legal perspective, the term “driving” means just that — physically driving a vehicle, hands on the wheel, foot on the pedals, transmission in drive (or reverse). Technically, this means that in order to be charged with Driving Under the Influence, two criteria must be met:
- The individual must be under the influence of an intoxicant like drugs (prescription, non-prescription, legal, illegal — the type of intoxicant does not matter, only that the driver is under the influence of a mind-altering substance)
- They are actually driving their vehicle, meaning that the key is engaged
Operating Under the Influence has the same requirements as a DUI in regards to the impairment of the person under arrest. However, “operating” has a wider meaning than “driving,” and includes situations where a person is pulled to the side of the road, with the car either running or off, but the keys are IN the ignition. If you are wondering: yes, keys OUT OF the ignition is handled differently, and may not be considered “operating.”
Penalties For DUI vs. OUI
While there are some minor technical differences between what grounds for arrest are included in a DUI and an OUI, the outcomes are the same. If you are arrested in Massachusetts, the legal charge will be an OUI, whereas other states may charge you with a DUI (or DWI). However, the penalties are the same regardless of the name of your charge.
The first two offenses, provided that there are no enhancements such as child endangerment, are misdemeanors, each without mandatory minimum sentences, but with license suspensions and significant fines. Third through fifth OUI charges are felonies and come with mandatory minimums, extended license suspensions, even greater fines, and permanently revoke the right to drive after a fifth offense.
Essentially, the terms DUI, DWI, and OUI, while not exactly interchangeable, are very similar to each other in terms of punishments and the activities that lead to the charges. OUI simply leaves a few more options for an arresting officer that allows them to charge someone with a crime since it allows for a broader interpretation of the law than a violation specifically pertaining to driving.