Many young people who drink and party are doing the responsible thing and using a designated driver, instead of driving while intoxicated. That is a safe option, but only if the designated driver is completely abstinent.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not okay for designated drivers to drink as long as they are under the legal level for drunk driving. Apparently, a lot of people who use designated drivers and who are designated drivers think it's alright to have a few.
Not the Least Drunk
There is research that indicates that a large percentage of people acting as designated drivers have actually consumed some alcohol. The reason that this is dangerous is because impairment begins long before you reach the legal limit. You may not be legally drunk, but you could be impaired enough to cause a car crash.
Because driving skills are impaired long before the driver reaches the blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.80, the legal level for driving under the influence, the National Transportation Safety Board has called for lowering that legal limit to 0.05 percent.
It's simply not safe to drive if you have had anything alcoholic to drink.
Make a Plan Ahead of Time
But, the public isn't getting that message. One Canadian study of 1,000 young adults indicated that many of them chose a member of their party who was the least drunk to be their designated driver.
A majority of those who used designated drivers did not plan or chose the driver ahead of time. They picked a designated driver from their group after a night of drinking. Many of them admitted they sometimes let someone who was drunk drive, to avoid a physical confrontation.
Drinking Among Designated Drivers Common
A more recent University of Florida study of more than 1,000 drivers revealed that 41% of those who were designated drivers had consumed some alcohol.
The Florida researchers intercepted 1,071 bar patrons on Saturday nights following football games over a three-month period. The drivers, mostly young, white male college students, were given breath tests to determine their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).
About 17% of the designated drivers had BACs between 0.20 and 0.50. Another 18% had BACs of 0.50 or more.
DUI Crackdown Promoted Designated Drivers
The idea of using designated drivers in the United States was first promoted by the Harvard Alcohol Project in a series of public service announcements in 1988. The concept gained popularity as states across the nation began to crack down on drunk drivers with tougher laws and penalties and every state in the nation eventually lowered the legal limit for DUI to 0.80.
However, the idea was that the designated driver would be sober.
Tips for Designated Drivers
Here are some tips for using a designated driver:
- Choose the designated driver before the party begins.
- Don't pick the same person every time to be the designated driver.
- Give the car keys to the designated driver before the drinking begins.
- Don't choose the "least drunk" to be the designated driver.
- If you are the designated driver, don't drink at all.
Other Options Are Available
If no one in your group wants to be the designated driver, there are other options available. Many larger communities have professional designated driver services available. There are also pre-paid taxi services available in many locations.
There are also advocacy groups that provide free designated driver services in some areas, especially around holidays and other times and events associated with drinking.
The main thing to remember is don't drink and drive, no matter what.
Barry, AE, et al. "Breath Alcohol Concentrations of Designated Drivers." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. July 2013.
National Transportation Safety Board. "Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol Impaired Driving." Safety Reports. 13 May 2013.
Learn more about Drunk Driving.