A designated driver is a person at a social gathering who promises to abstain from alcohol so he/she can ensure that others arrive home safely. The Harvard School of Public Health Center for Health Communication is widely credited with starting the designated driver initiative in the United States in 1988. By 1991, the concept was so ingrained in the public consciousness that the phrase “designated driver” was officially introduced to the Random House Webster's College Dictionary.
There are a number of methods people use to appoint a designated driver. If the group includes someone who does not normally drink, is pregnant, or is taking medication that should not be mixed with alcohol, this person is the logical choice to be the designated driver. Taking turns or drawing straws are also common methods you can use to choose a sober driver before an event. However, it’s generally a good idea to avoid appointing someone who has a history of problem drinking to be the designated driver. He/she may be simply unable to resist the temptation associated with being around alcohol.
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The concept of using a designated driver is encouraged in a number of ways. Nightclubs, bars, and restaurants frequently offer free coffee or soda to designated drivers. On college campuses, it is common for student organizations to arrange for a special hotline that you can call to obtain a free ride home after drinking. There are also businesses in some larger metropolitan areas that use two person teams to drive partygoers home in their own vehicles. Even Anheuser-Bush, a leading maker of alcoholic beverages, runs media campaigns to promote awareness of the importance of using a designated driver.
When the idea of using a designated driver while drinking was first introduced, the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) went on record as opposing the practice. They felt that designated drivers still encouraged people to consume excessive amounts of alcohol. However, MADD has since changed its position and is now officially one of the most prominent supporters of designated driving.
Although the designated driver approach to control auto accidents caused by drunk driving is most commonly used in the United States, this idea is slowly spreading to other parts of the world as well. For example, the Belgium government has a nationwide initiative called the Bob campaign that encourages people to appoint a sober driver to provide safe transportation after a party.