A new study found that up to 35% of so-called designated drivers – the ones who are supposed to stay sober – had been drinking along with the rest of the group. And most of that 35% had drank enough to impair their driving.
People Choose Designated Drivers Who are the Least Drunk
The study, sponsored by the University of Florida in June 2013, was conducted in a Southeastern university town, over a series of Friday nights. Researchers met up with people at downtown restaurants and bars and interviewed more than 1000 revelers. Their blood alcohol levels were tested with a hand-held breath-testing instrument.
Their results showed that while designated drivers had significantly lower levels of blood alcohol than the non- drivers, 17% of the supposedly “sober” drivers had levels from .02 to .049%, and 18% had levels of .05% or higher.
The assistant professor of health education and behavior who conducted the study said, “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 — successful meaning got home in one piece … that’s disconcerting.”
The mean age of all participants was 28. The majority was white male college students; 10% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, and 4% were African-American.
.05 is the New .08
The most worrisome finding was that 18% of designated drivers had blood alcohol levels of more than .05%. This is significant because the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently recommended that all states adopt .05 as the new legal cut-off for drunk driving, down from the current standard of .08.
The NTSB noted that research shows most people will experience visual and cognitive impairments at a .05 blood alcohol level. The risk at that level, it emphasized, is not insignificant:
- At .08%, drivers are 169% more likely to be in an accident than drivers who have no alcohol in their blood.
- At .05%, drivers are still 38% more likely to be in an accident than people who are completely sober.
Even seemingly low levels of drinking affect your ability to do more than one thing at a time. Experts say it’s too risky to try to time your drinks so they’re “out of your system,” unless you’re quite knowledgeable about blood chemistry and how your body specifically processes alcohol.
The only safe solution is to designate your driver before the evening begins and agree that person won’t drink at all, and/or keep taxi numbers handy.
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