Designated driver or drunk driver? Are DDs driving drunk? Alarming stats from a new University of Florida Gainesville study—35 percent of designated...
Are DDs driving drunk? Alarming stats from a new University of Florida Gainesville study—35 percent of designated drivers drink before driving—may have you adding a cab to your speed dial.
But while any amount of boozing drivers is concerning, the research plastered all over the Web may not paint the whole picture, says Paul Atchley, Ph.D., of the University of Kansas, who has spent his career researching distracted driving.
Look a little closer and you’ll see that of 1,000 bar goers in the study, only 165 were designated drivers (shrinking the sample size right off the bat). About 58 of 165 had been drinking, and 29—about 18 percent of DDs—had worrisome blood-alcohol concentrations (BAC) above 0.05 percent. (The legal limit for driving is 0.08.)
“Twenty-nine out of 165 people is more than you’d want; it’s large enough to make some inferences, but it’s not as big of a study as the 1,000 would suggest,” Atchley says.
The good—and somewhat overlooked—news? Most (108 of 165) DDs in the study didn’t drink a drop—a promising figure compared to stats from 30 years ago, says Atchley. In fact, the term “designated driver” wasn’t part of American vernacular until about 1988 when the Harvard Alcohol Project introduced the campaign.
Most of all, this research speaks to the power of social situations that involve alcohol, Atchley says. Oftentimes, a designated driver is selected because they are “least intoxicated” or have driven impaired previously without incident, says Adam E. Barry, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.
Instead, figure it out before you hit the road. If you’re the driver, avoid the first drink of the night—having the first makes a second much more likely, says Atchley, and the level at which impairment occurs varies. Too many factors—gender, body size, ethnicity, food, or medication use, to name a few—are at play to suggest a “safe” amount to consume before driving, Barry says.
Thirsty? Order a soda and tell the bartender you’re driving—some watering holes offer free non-alcoholic beverages for drivers.
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