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Updated on August 11, 2023
4 min read

The Importance of Designated Drivers

What is a Designated Driver?

A designated driver agrees not to drink alcohol so they can safely drive their friends, family, and colleagues home after an event with alcohol consumption.

In 1988, Harvard’s School of Public Health introduced the Harvard Alcohol Project to reduce drunk driving fatalities.7 The project introduced the Scandinavian designated driver concept to the United States.

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

How Does Designated Driving Work?

People assign designated drivers at social events that involve drinking alcohol. Whoever is chosen must remain sober throughout the event to ensure their friends or family get home safely once the effects of alcohol set in.

Some people who do not drink alcohol but enjoy attending social events prefer being the designated driver. Nobody will poke fun at them or pressure them for not drinking because people acknowledge the responsibility of the task.

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

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 has the discipline 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

You may also use professional car services like Uber or Lyft, allowing people to request a ride to and from locations. Around big holidays, many taxis or local ride services provide free trips to ensure people get home safely without drunk driving. 

If you have brought your car to an event, leave it where it is if you have started drinking. Come back for it when you have sobered up. Bars will often have resources to help you get home safely.

Tips for a Successful Designated Driver Plan

Whether you are always the designated driver among loved ones or you switch turns, here are some tips to achieve a successful designated driver plan:

  • Consume a large meal beforehand 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 strategy also helps avoid conversations about why you are not drinking
  • Plan 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 don’t get 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

Being a designated driver is a huge responsibility that can save lives. You must remain sober all night.

No amount of alcohol is worth going back on your word. Once everyone starts drinking, making healthy, rational decisions is more challenging.

Can a Designated Driver Have One Drink?

Having a drink or two is unsafe because it will affect your judgment and driving ability. It is best not to drink to keep your loved ones safe.

It takes approximately three hours to eliminate two alcoholic beverages, depending on your weight. Nothing can quicken this process, like drinking coffee or having a cold shower.

Drinking and Driving Statistics

Here are some statistics about drunk driving:1,6

  • About 32 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes every day 
  • In 2020, 11,654 people died in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers, accounting for 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States
  • 62% of people who died in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers in 2020 were the alcohol-impaired drivers themselves
  • 38% were passengers of alcohol-impaired drivers, drivers or passengers of another vehicle, or nonoccupants (such as a pedestrian)

Many people still drive while intoxicated despite all the warnings. 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


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A designated driver is essential for everyone to get home safely. They are an integral part of keeping roads safe.

Educating friends and family about the designated driver concept can help reduce the number of vehicle accidents and deaths. Whether volunteers or paid, the designated driver of any group has a big responsibility.

Updated on August 11, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on August 11, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Impaired Driving: Get the Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020.
  2. Romano et al. “Drugs and alcohol: their relative crash risk.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 2014.
  3. Voas et al. “Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: an update using 2007 data.” Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 2012.
  4. Teen Drinking and Driving.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2012.
  5. Bergen et al. “Characteristics of designated drivers and their passengers from the 2007 National Roadside Survey in the United States.” Traffic injury prevention, 2014.
  6. "Drunk Driving." U.S. Department of Transportation.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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