Everyone is familiar with the term “designated driver”, which describes a laudatory concept under which one member of a group abstains from drinking in order to safely drive everyone else home at the end of the evening or event. The use of the designated driver has been strongly promoted, especially among teenagers and young adults, as a method to reduce the dangers of drunk driving. But is this method effective, and are those who are practicing it acting in conformance with the purpose of the program?  A recent study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, casts some doubt on the efficacy of the designated driver approach, as it is currently being implemented in the United States.

If you have been chosen, or have volunteered, to be the “designated driver”, does that mean that you will abstain from any alcohol use? Or does it merely mean that you will drink less than your fellow celebrants? In Europe, a designated driver is widely considered to be the less inebriated driver, not an abstainer. Some surveys conducted in the United States have found that the individuals polled felt that it was perfectly appropriate for the designated driver to drink, as long as his or her blood alcohol level did not reach the legal limit. Keep in mind that “legal intoxication” is 0.08% BAC or higher, a standard reached by a normal sized male after three or four drinks in an hour. It is widely understood that an individual’s ability to drive is affected at a BAC of 0.05%, and some studies have found driving skills impaired with a BAC of 0.02%. This means that a designated driver who has consumed alcohol may not be providing the safe and secure ride home that you thought you were getting.

The University of Florida conducted the study which I referenced,  which tested the blood alcohol content of 1,071 people leaving bars in Gainesville on a Saturday night following a home football game. 165 of those people identified themselves as a designated driver, and the breath test revealed that 41% of them had been drinking. 17% of these designated drivers had a blood-alcohol content of 0.02 or below, but 18% had blood-alcohol levels of 0.05 or higher. The researchers concluded that there is a need for campaigns which clearly communicate the need for all designated drivers to abstain from drinking entirely.

If you are a participant in a group undertaking which involves a designated driver, whether you are the driver or a party participant, you should make sure that the designated driver will not consume any alcohol during the course of the event. Stark & Stark is proud of its efforts on behalf of the victims of drunk driving. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of the negligence of an impaired motor vehicle operator, contact Stark & Stark.