Disturbingly, new research described in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reveals that 20 percent of “designated drivers” are impaired even though they have volunteered to drive their friends home from a party or bar. The study revealed that about 40 percent of designated drivers had consumed alcohol and that many of them had blood alcohol levels that made it much too unsafe for them to drive.
According to lead researcher Adam Barry, an assistant professor of health education and behavior at the University of Florida in Gainesville, designated drivers might drink because they think they can still consume alcohol as long as they don’t feel drunk when it comes time to drive people home at the end of the night.
However, Barry points out that your driving skills are already impaired before you start to feel the “buzz” that lets you know you’ve had too much alcohol. Barry cautions that designated drivers shouldn’t have any alcohol.
To conduct the study, Barry and his colleagues visited a college bar district and recruited bar goers as they left the bars. More than 1,000 bar patrons participated in the study and agreed to take alcohol breath tests, including 165 individuals who indicated that they were the designated driver.
The researchers found that approximately 40 percent of the designated driver had consumed alcohol. On alcohol breath tests, 17 percent had blood alcohol levels between 0.02 and 0.05 percent, while 18 percent were at .05 or higher.
Though people can legally drive with a blood alcohol level up to 0.08 percent, studies have shown that alcohol starts to impact people’s driving skills at a blood level of 0.02 percent and by 0.5 percent, a driver is too impaired to drive safely.
According to Barry, all drivers, whether or not they are designated drivers, should put down the alcohol if they are going to get behind the wheel of a car. Of course, it’s even more of a problem when a designated driver drives after drinking, because this individual will be driving around a carload of intoxicated passengers.
Barry notes that these individuals are a “distraction” and that when you combine this factor with a designated driver who is impaired, all of the ingredients are present for a major disaster.
Unfortunately, many studies have proven that designated-driver campaigns have done very little to actually stop drunk driving.