Should Designated Drivers Completely Abstain from Drinking?

When you drink, you may think the only damage you cause to your physical and emotional health is with the alcohol itself. However, if you get behind the wheel of a car, you’re risking the wellbeing of others as well as yourself. It’s a great idea to have a designated driver when you’re out – to avoid this issue – but according to a new study, appearing in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, more than one-third of those who were supposed to drive their pals home safely had been boozing it up themselves – and some were legally drunk.


While the researchers admitted certain limitations to the study, and noted that they aren’t sure how much danger lurks in designated drivers who have a drink or two, study author Adam Barry, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, asserted that the message is clear: designated drivers are drinking when they should be abstaining. ‘While more of the designated drivers didn’t drink than did drink, which is a good thing, you have people being selected because they’re the least drunk, or the least intoxicated or they’ve driven drunk before,’ Barry explained. ‘The only real safe option is to completely abstain.’


The University of Florida researchers spoke with roughly 1,100 bar patrons, mostly white, male and college-aged. Of those, 165 people were serving as designated drivers, and consented to blood tests. While 65% of these drivers (108) had zero alcohol in their systems, 17% (28) had a blood alcohol level of between 0.02 and 0.049, and 18% (29), were at 0.05 or more. The legal limit is 0.08 or higher, but Barry noted that the study examined those above 0.05 because wellness experts believe that drivers are significantly impaired at this level, and some public health advocates want to lower the legal level for driving to 0.05.


Yet James Lange, an alcohol researcher and coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Initiatives at San Diego State University, believes that lowering the level isn’t good enough. He comments that people’s alcohol tolerance varies and so ‘it would be difficult for me to make a blanket statement that a certain amount is OK. The easiest recommendation is that they don’t drink at all.’ E. Scott Geller, a professor who studies alcohol use at Virginia Tech, adds, ‘We should not trust a designated driver to be sober.’

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