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Do's and Don't's for Designated Drivers

December 7, 2009

Ideally, everyone should take their turn as the designated driver. But taking your turn may mean more than just staying alcohol-abstinent for the night.

When you’re designated, you’re charged with seeing that you and everyone in the car get home safely. That means curbing your appetite for other common driving distractions, like texting behind the wheel or driving drowsy from too little sleep the night before. Here are a few tips to remember:

There’s NOT an app for that
Got the app to track your BAC? Smart phone apps that measure blood alcohol level abound. But, just because they can tell you what’s pumping through your blood (which might be less than the legal limit of .08), doesn’t mean they can tell you if it’s safe to drive.

The reason: Legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, legal limits do not define a level below which it is safe to drive. Impairment due to alcohol begins at levels well below the legal limit.

So, not drinking doesn’t mean “just one.” If you’re the DD, crack open the sparkling grape juice. And if you want, download the app. But use it to avoid a hangover when you’re not the DD, not for driving decisions when you are. 

Over-the-counter might mean over the top
Cold meds and other common medications available over-the-counter can make you loopy. (We know, we don’t have to tell you.) Although these side effects seem minimal, the truth is they can impair your driving to dangerous levels. Prescription meds, such as some antidepressants, can do the same.

The most important thing to know is how you react to medications. Don’t take a new cold or allergy medicine the night you’re the designated driver, and if you’re on prescription medications that can make you sleepy, talk to your doctor about managing this side effect beforehand.

Here’s a list of what to know from the FDA.   

Cell phones are distracting—period
The media’s been all over the dangers of talking and texting while driving this year. But has it sunk in? Probably not—it just seems so easy to tap a few keys on the straightaway.

A study conducted at the University of Utah, though, found that, statistically, driving while using a cell phone is just as dangerous as driving while drunk. So, if you’re the DD, put the key pad away and keep your eyes on the road. If you hear your holiday jingle ring-tone from afar, don’t answer, or pull over before responding.

Other distractions can be deadly, too
Too much conversation, noise makers and even inebriated passengers can all cause distractions. Help your friends stay within their limits, and in their seatbelts, since you’ll be chauffeuring them home. They’ll thank you for it the next morning.

Don’t drive dead tired
The growing perception is that driving while tired can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. The group at highest risk for being in a crash due to fatigue, as found by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, is young men (under 30). So, if you know you didn’t get a full night’s sleep before, you feel like you might fall asleep against your will, and/or you’re overly giddy or depressed, you shouldn’t be driving. Call a cab, or stay where you are for the night and keep your passengers with you.

Plus, once you’ve made the decision to stay where you are rather than get behind the wheel, you can join the champagne toast.