Public Release: 

Designated driving takes on new meaning

University of Alberta

The phrase designated driver (DD) is meaningless for many young adults who, instead of choosing a sober chauffer, pick the "least drunk" of the group, says a new University of Alberta study that challenges the idea behind the impaired driving intervention.

"The idea of having a designated driver is a great one, but it's problematic for many people," said Dr. Peter Rothe, lead investigator from the university's Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research (ACICR). "The concept and practice of using designated drivers should be re-thought to make it more effective."

Rothe led a study that combined a survey of just over 1000 Albertans with 14 province-wide focus groups, looking into how young Alberta drivers--between 18 and 29--are using different drinking and driving interventions. He found that choosing a designated driver is not typically a "thought-through" strategy. While some respondents had a rotation system for choosing the DD, others didn't plan as well. One of the biggest problems is that DDs drink alcohol while on duty. Almost 18 per cent of the rural respondents said they chose the driver during or after they had been drinking. Many people also said they will allow someone who has been drinking to get behind the wheel rather than risk a physical confrontation.

One participant recalls a time a friend might have "whooped my butt, so I let him go and he was really messed up when he left but he made it home." Other respondents, however, accepted violence as part of the job. "If they punch me in the face, they punch me in the face--they're drunk. I don't care," said one.

Driving with distracting, drunk passengers is also a concern. One female mentioned pulling out of a parking lot while her friends were throwing things at her head and hanging out the window.

Rothe said educating newly licensed drivers on how best to deal with drunk drivers is one of many recommendations that came out of the focus groups. Others include encouraging communities to provide alternative and affordable transportation, particularly for rural centres. Parents can play a more prominent role by talking to their children about driving drunk, offering rides for money and taxis and not "bailing out" their children if they crash a vehicle. Participants also recommended forming partnerships with city officials and major industries to offer alternative transportation to young male oil and gas industry workers.


The Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research (ACICR) is a provincial organization committed to advancing the impact of prevention, emergency response, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries in Alberta. ACICR receives core business funding from Alberta Health and Wellnesss and is housed within the University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Public Health Sciences. The Centre is an internationally designated Affiliate Support Centre of the World Health Organization Safe Community Network.

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