Your designated driver might have been drinking
A field sobriety test. A new study shows some "designated drivers" may have blood alcohol levels over the new recommended level for drunk driving, a new study shows.
June 10th, 2013
02:55 PM ET

Your designated driver might have been drinking

Maybe you’re better off taking the bus.

A new study in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that 35% of designated drivers - those responsible for driving friends who may have had too much to drink - also consume alcohol and 1 in 5 had blood-alcohol levels high enough to impair their driving.

Researchers interviewed and tested 1,100 people in the downtown area of an unnamed Southeastern college community.  Of the designated drivers who drank alcohol, half had blood alcohol levels higher than .05%, the new recommended limit for drunken driving (the current limit is .08%).

“If you look at how people choose their designated drivers, oftentimes they’re chosen by who is least drunk or who has successfully driven intoxicated in the past,” says Adam Barry, an assistant professor of health education and behavior at the University of Florida. “That’s disconcerting.”

Investigators talked to patrons as they left bars between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. over six consecutive Friday nights before home football games in the fall of 2011. The average age of those interviewed was 28.

After the initial interview, which included questions about their alcohol-related behavior and their personal data, (age, gender, etc,) each person had their blood alcohol level tested.

Those who were not designated drivers had much higher levels than those appointed to drive, but 35% of the 165 self-identified designated drivers interviewed had been drinking.  Most shocking to researchers was that 17% of those drivers tested had blood-alcohol levels between .02 and .049%, while 18% were at .05 percent or higher.

Perhaps, researchers say, many people don’t believe one or two drinks can impair their driving. That's not true, says Barry. “That’s the insidious nature of alcohol — when you feel buzzed, you’re drunk."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) believes designated drivers are one of the best ways to keep people safe.

“MADD supports using sober designated drivers, public transportation, safe ride programs, or other means of traveling safely after drinking alcohol for individuals 21 and older,” said MADD spokeswoman Carol Ronis.

However, Ronis says the designated driver needs to know that he or she cannot drink alcohol.

The National Transportation Safety Board last month recommended all 50 states adopt a blood-alcohol content cutoff of 0.05 compared with the 0.08 standard used today to prosecute drunken driving. If states will act on this recommendation still has to be seen.  According to Barry, the American Medical Association made the same recommendation in the 1980s, but the recommendation was never considered.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Jrad

    From what I've seen, it's not so much that the 'designated driver' completely abstains, but rather who is perceived to be the 'least drunk' that is the DD.

    What could possibly go wrong??

    June 10, 2013 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. B

    This article is misleading. The new standards have not been adopted yet, so even people with BAC over 0.05 weren't necessarily legally liable for drunk driving – only those over 0.08.

    Also, it's not like alcohol just hangs around in your system. If you have one drink and don't drive for another three or four hours, the alcohol should be completely metabolized by then.

    June 10, 2013 at 18:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Owl96

      No they were not legaly drunk. But this was not a study in legality. What they noted was that they were impared. And, according to the artical, .05 is impared.

      June 11, 2013 at 07:48 | Report abuse |
    • S

      I agree; the article is misleading. The study was also conducted in a college community which may have heavily biased the results; the population there may not be representative of the greater American population.

      June 11, 2013 at 09:12 | Report abuse |
  3. Bill

    The young adults who are so preoccupied with their cell they don't know when the light has changed scare me more than the tipsy travelers of the night.

    Texting goes on 24 hours a day, on the freeways and in busy daytime traffic. Get caught at this and you don't go to jail or lose your license. The fine isn't even worth mentioning in most states.

    June 10, 2013 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. LouAZ

    You're too drunk to sing . . . you drive !

    June 10, 2013 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mr. Bones

    Well, I mean, choosing a driver based on who has successfully driven drunk in the past is at least a LITTLE better than choosing the one that's UNsuccessfully done it, but I guess it's still not a huge improvement.

    June 10, 2013 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. janeqcitizen

    I'm not against drinking but DWI having lost a sister & bro-in-law to a self-indulgent drunk who CHOSE to drive after drinking. I raised their orphaned children. I volunteer with our Sheriff's Office presenting a program for DWI offenders-so I've heard it all. As a nurse-I've also seen it all. As a victim-I'm still living the horror of knowing the SLAUGHTER of my family was 1000% preventable. When someone says they were "just a little drunk"-I assure them my family is not "just a little dead." Driving SOBER is a CHOICE, too. Have a SAFE Summer.

    June 10, 2013 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Homer S.

    Driving is my favorite drinking game! My second is getting drunk and trying to cross the road, like real life frogger!

    June 11, 2013 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. OhPlease

    Even if nobody is driving and you are just out on the town drinking, you should still have a designated Drunk Wrangler. One reason is to keep people from ripping off or taking advantage of the group's intoxication, the other is so that you actually get home safely. There was many a time in San Antonio when I had to pull my drunk friend in tech schoool away from the edge of the riverwalk, she definitely saved my life in return when I went into hypoglycemic shock. Watch out for your friends and they'll watch out for you, it's as simple as that.

    August 18, 2014 at 18:48 | Report abuse | Reply

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