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When most people think of the crime of drunk driving, they think of “DUI” or “driving under the influence.” In Michigan, we have a slightly different way of referring to drunk driving charges. In this blog, I will go over the two main types of Michigan DUI charges: Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Operating While Visually Impaired (OWVI). I’ll also discuss how they’re different.

In Michigan, like in every state, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated or impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. Many associate this with the .08% blood alcohol content (BAC) limit that’s imposed upon drivers in virtually every state, but it goes further than that. In addition to being arrested for and charged with DUI for driving with a BAC of .08% or greater, a driver could be arrested if his or her abilities were impaired due to alcohol and/or drugs—even if his or her BAC was below the legal limit.

This is where Operating While Intoxicated and Operating While Visually Impaired come into play.

Operating While Intoxicated includes three distinct violations and occurs when:

  • A person drives while his or her ability to operate a vehicle is “substantially affected” by alcohol, drugs, or another intoxicating substance.
  • A person drives while with a BAC of .08% or higher.
  • A person drives with a high BAC of .17% or higher.

Operating While Visually Impaired occurs when:

  • A person drives while “visibly impaired” due to alcohol, drugs, or another controlled or intoxicating substance.

Penalties for OWI & OWVI in Michigan

The penalties for Operating While Intoxicated are more severe than those for Operating While Visually Impaired, and enhanced penalties will apply for Operating While Intoxicated with a high BAC.

Both OWI and OWVI are punishable by up to 93 days in jail and up to 360 hours of community service, but their other penalties are slightly different:

  • Fines: The fine for OWI is $100 to $500. The fine for OWVI is up to $300.
  • Points Added to Driving Record: OWI is a six-point offense, while OWVI is a four-point offense.
  • Ignition Interlock Device: A driver convicted of OWI may need to have an ignition interlock device installed on his or her vehicle. The same requirement does not typically apply for OWVI.
  • License Suspension: A driver arrested for OWI may face license suspension for 30 days, plus license restrictions for another 150 days. OWVI, on the other hand, may result in license restrictions for 90 days (or 180 days if the driver was impaired by a controlled substance) but no license suspension.

Substantially Affected or Visibly Impaired: What Determines This?

What’s interesting is that one of the sub-categories of OWI in Michigan is operating a vehicle while “substantially affected” by alcohol or drugs. This means a person could face OWI charges even if his or her blood alcohol level was below the legal limit, as long as his or her ability to drive was “substantially affected.” This may sound similar to the offense of driving while “visibly impaired,” or OWVI. Yet OWVI is a less serious offense, at least as far as certain penalties are concerned.

How will law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney determine whether to charge you with OWI as opposed to OWVI? With cases involving a driver’s impaired abilities and not a blood alcohol test of .08% or greater, you’re looking at evidence based on the arresting officer’s observations, performance on field sobriety tests, and possibly video evidence as well. These are more subjective than the results of blood alcohol testing, and a competent attorney should know how to challenge an officer’s claims that your speech was slurred, that you performed poorly on a walk-and-turn test, that you were swerving, or that you had other signs of impairment.

As a Farmington Hills DUI lawyer who has been fighting for drivers in Michigan since 2002, I understand what it takes to challenge OWI or OWVI charges. I represent clients in criminal court proceedings and at their SOS hearings to protect their licenses. When law enforcement and prosecutors try to claim that my clients have behaved a certain way, and this means they were intoxicated or impaired, I know what to say and do to challenge these accusations.

If you have questions about DUI and your rights, I’m here to help. Call my firm at (248) 599-0054 today for your free, confidential consultation!