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What is a Designated Driver?

Many methods are used to prevent drunk driving. One of the most important and successful methods is the designated driver concept. 

In 1988, the Harvard Alcohol Project was introduced as a way to bring drunk driving fatalities down.7 The project introduced the Scandinavian concept of the designated driver to the United States.

A designated driver is someone who agrees not to consume any alcohol so they can safely drive their friends, family, and colleagues home.

Instead of being an anti-alcohol project, the designated driver concept asked people to have a plan in place and be responsible when drinking alcohol. This helped to shift the way the public viewed alcohol consumption outside the home.

How Does Designated Driving Work?

Designated drivers are commonly used at sporting events, parties, and other social or work-related functions. They are the sober drivers to ensure their peers or family members drinking alcohol get home safely.

Some people who do not drink alcohol but enjoy attending social events prefer to be the designated driver. One reason why is because nobody will poke fun at them or place pressure on them for not drinking because they have a big responsibility.

Some establishments and companies run a designated driver campaign, offering complimentary, non-alcoholic drinks to sober drivers to make the role more enjoyable.

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Drinking and Driving Statistics

In the United States, more than one individual dies every hour in a motor vehicle accident that involves a drunk driver. In 2015, more than 10,000 American citizens died in an alcohol-impaired crash. This is equal to 28 people dying every day in the United States from a drunk driving accident.1

According to a 2014 study, an adult vehicle driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 is seven times as likely to be involved in a fatal vehicle crash than a sober driver.2 Young adult drivers aged between 21 and 34 with a 0.08 BAC are 12 times more likely to be in a fatal car accident than drivers who have not drunk alcohol.

Many people still drive while intoxicated despite all the warnings, public service announcements, advocacy groups, and harsher penalties for violations. Drunk driving numbers for high schoolers reduced by half between 1991 and 2012, but teenagers are still at risk whether they are driving or not.4

The more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to have a fatal vehicle accident. The odds of being involved in any vehicle accident, fatal or otherwise, increase at similar rates.3

Who Should be a Designated Driver?

Here are some tips on how to choose designated drivers wisely:

  • Pick a responsible and safe driver with a valid license and current automobile insurance
  • Choose someone who is known to resist the temptation of alcohol
  • Select someone who will either agree to come and pick everyone up when asked or will stay on location and avoid alcohol
  • Be confident that the chosen designated driver is available when you need them to be

There are also some alternatives to having a relative, friend, or loved one as the designated driver. One of the most popular is professional taxi car services like Uber or Lyft that allow people to request a ride to and from locations. 

Around big holidays, such as New Year’s Eve and Independence Day, many taxis or local ride services provide free trips or promote specials to ensure that people get home safely without drunk driving. 

If you have brought your own car to an event, leave it where it is if you have started drinking and come back for it when you have sobered up. You can even opt for a driving service to eliminate the temptation to drive and the hassle of picking up your car at another time.

Drinking can sneak up on people, and it is easy to drink more than you planned, especially around significant events. Just be safe and do not try to drive home drunk. Make a plan with a designated driver and stick with it to ensure everyone gets home safely.

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Tips for Making a Designated Driver Plan 

Whether you are always the designated driver among loved ones or you switch turns, here are some tips for being a good designated driver:

  • Consume a large meal ahead of time, so you are full and not tempted to drink.
  • Drink soft drinks, flavored beverages, or ‘mocktails’ if you want to have a drink in your hand. This also helps avoid conversations about why you are not drinking.
  • Plan ahead before everyone begins drinking. Do not wait until alcohol consumption has started and rely on who is the ‘least drunk.’
  • Avoid the bar area, so you are not tempted to drink.
  • Keep yourself occupied by playing darts or pool, dancing, or talking to people.
  • Keep hold of everyone’s car keys to ensure nobody leaves drunk and tries to drive themselves home.

Be sure to keep yourself busy to take the focus off the fact that you are not drinking. Have fun doing other activities instead. 

Remember: Being a designated driver is a huge responsibility that can save lives. No amount of alcohol is worth going back on your word.

As a designated driver, you have the responsibility to remain sober all night. Once everyone starts drinking, it is more challenging to make healthy, rational decisions.

If you spend a lot of time with the same people, consider taking turns being the designated driver so no one feels resentful or left out.

Can a Designated Driver Have One Drink?

It is not safe to have a drink or two and still be the sober driver at an event. Consider that it takes approximately three hours to eliminate the alcohol content of two drinks, depending on your weight. Nothing can quicken this process, not even drinking coffee or having a cold shower.

It is best to stick to the definition of the designated driver and not drink at all to keep your loved ones safe. 

It is hard to know how much you can drink before you are drunk. There is also the risk of someone wanting to leave a social occasion early before your body has eliminated its alcohol content.

Why are Designated Drivers So Important? 

A designated driver is essential for everyone to get home safely. They are an integral part of keeping roads safe. By educating friends and family about the designated driver concept, people can work together to reduce the number of vehicle accidents and deaths.

Whether they are volunteers or paid, the designated driver of any group has a big responsibility.

Resources

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Impaired Driving: Get the Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), August 2020

Romano, Edurado et al. “Drugs and alcohol: their relative crash risk.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 75,1 (2014): 56-64. doi:10.15288/jsad.2014.75.56

Voas, Robert B et al. “Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs vol. 73,3 (2012): 341-50. doi:10.15288/jsad.2012.73.341

Teen Drinking and Driving, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), October 2012

Bergen, Gwen et al. “Characteristics of designated drivers and their passengers from the 2007 National Roadside Survey in the United States.” Traffic injury prevention vol. 15,3 (2014): 273-7. doi:10.1080/15389588.2013.810334

DeJong, W, and L Wallack. “The role of designated driver programs in the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving: a critical reassessment.” Health education quarterly vol. 19,4 (1992): 429-42; discussion 443-5. doi:10.1177/109019819201900407

Harvard Alcohol Project: Designated Driver, Harvard T.H. Chan, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/chc/harvard-alcohol-project/

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