Most charged with drunk driving in Michigan will find themselves facing one of three offenses: Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI) and Super Drunk Driving.

Operating While Intoxicated

Operating While Intoxicated boils down to two main components: driving under the influence of alcohol to the point that one’s ability to drive is substantially affected or driving with an alcohol level of .08 or higher. This means the prosecution can prove its case if they can show either that alcohol substantially affected the ability to drive or that the alcohol level was a .08 or more at the time of operation.

Operating While Visibly Impaired

Operating While Visibly Impaired is different from Operating While Impaired in two key aspects. A particular alcohol level is not a part of the offense. Whereas with Operating While Intoxicated, .08 is the threshold alcohol level – no such level is a part of OWVI. To be convicted of Operating While Visibly Impaired, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant drove with less ability than would an ordinary careful driver. This is a lesser showing than what is required for Operating While Impaired. For OWI, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s driving was substantially affected by the alcohol.

Super Drunk Driving

Super drunk driving is another common drunk driving charge. Drivers that test with a .17 or higher blood alcohol concentration may be charged as a Super Drunk Driver.

Penalty Differences

Both OWI and OWVI carry potential jail sentences along with driver’s license sanctions. The potential jail term for both offenses is 93 days. For OWI, the driving sanction is a 180 days suspension. For the first 30 days, no driving is allowed. For the remaining 150 days, a restricted license is available. For Operating While Visibly Intoxicated, the driving sanction is a 90 day suspension with a restricted license available.

Super Drunk Driving carries increased penalties: a longer potential jail term (180 days), increased fines/costs and a stiffer driver’s license penalty. One year of alcohol rehabilitation is required. The driving sanction is a one year suspension. After 45 days of suspension, one may secure a restricted license if a breath alcohol interlock device is installed in the car.

Additional Possible Penalties

A conviction for any drunk driving offense carries the possibility of the following:

  • Probation
  • Jail
  • Fines/costs
  • Community Service
  • Attend alcohol treatment/programs
  • Restrictions, suspension or revocation of license
  • Points
  • Plate confiscation
  • Vehicle immobilization
  • Vehicle forfeiture


There are significant differences among drunk driving charges. There are also significant potential penalty differences. These differences will impact how each case is defended and handled. A Michigan OWI lawyer can discuss your unique case and the best options for you.