Originally published December 27, 2021. Updated May 23, 2023.
At any social gathering involving alcohol, the person who commits to being the designated driver is responsible for abstaining from alcohol for the night. It is their duty as designated driver to provide a safe way home for friends and family who choose to drink. Having a designated driver is intended to reduce drunk driving incidents, and the number of injuries and deaths resulting from drunk driving.
Sadly, some designated drivers have different interpretations of their duties.
If you have suffered injuries in a car crash caused by a drunk driver, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. They can advise you on your claim and protect your legal rights.
Should a Designated Driver Drink Alcohol at All?
Ideally, a designated driver should not drink alcohol at all on the night they are supposed to act as designated driver. It may be possible to drink a small amount of alcohol without going over the legal limit, but it can be difficult to judge what is a “safe” amount, as drivers are often already impaired in ways they don’t recognize even before they begin to feel the effects. And the consequences of drinking too much before driving can be severe.
In New York, you can be arrested for:
- Aggravated driving while intoxicated (Agg DWI)
- Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
- Driving while ability impaired (DWAI)
A blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.05 percent is evidence that you are impaired, a BAC of 0.08 or more is evidence of intoxication, and a BAC of 0.18 or more is evidence of aggravated driving while intoxicated. If you are convicted of an alcohol-related violation, the court is obliged to suspend or revoke your driver’s license.
It is also simply irresponsible to drink after promising to be someone else’s safe way home, because it puts them and others needlessly at risk. Even when a designated driver isn’t breaking the law, they are breaking the trust of their friends and family.
In short, designated drivers should skip the alcohol for the night, even if it’s “just one beer.”
Are Designated Drivers Actually Abstaining from Alcohol?
Recent surveys have shown a concerning attitude among people who have been designated drivers. The University of Florida carried out a study on designated drivers. They found these drivers were still consuming alcohol to a level that would impair their ability to drive. This behavior was informed by the mistaken belief that they were safe to drive as long as they didn’t feel drunk.
Researchers breathalyzed 1,071 people, including 165 designated drivers. 18% had blood alcohol levels of 0.05 or above, and 17% had levels between 0.02 and 0.49.
A person’s driving abilities become impaired starting at a BAC of just 0.02 percent. Driving impairment is just more obvious at 0.05%, which is about two drinks for a 160-pound man.
In another survey, researchers found that drivers thought it was okay for the designated driver to drink alcohol provided they were under the blood alcohol limit (BAC) of 0.08%.
These findings and the attitudes expressed are very concerning. For these reasons, the National Transportation Safety Board has consistently called for lowering the blood alcohol limit to 0.05% from the current 0.08%. In the state of Utah, the blood alcohol limit was lowered to 0.05% and the state saw positive effects on highway safety. These findings could motivate other states that are on the fence about making this change.
What Happens if You’re Caught Driving Over the Legal Limit?
Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense. In New York State, over 40% of motor vehicle accident deaths involve impaired driving. Accordingly, the penalties for alcohol violations are severe.
For a first offense, you could face a fine of $300-$500, a crime victim assistance fee, a mandatory surcharge, and 15 days imprisonment.
Here are a couple more of the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol:
- You could be convicted of criminally negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter, or assault if you kill or injure someone in a crash or collision. The penalty for these offenses includes fines of thousands of dollars and a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.
- Your liability insurance may not cover the compensation for the injuries and damage caused by the crash if you were drunk. You may be sued for tens of thousands of dollars or more and may even have to pay punitive damages to the victim on top of that. It is likely you would find it expensive or even difficult to get liability insurance in the future.
- You will have a criminal record.
What are the Alternatives to Drinking?
There are many alternatives available for designated drivers who want to enjoy a night out with their friends who are drinking but don’t want to risk anyone’s safety. There is a wide range of non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants and bars. You can buy:
- Non-alcoholic beer/lager
- Non-alcoholic red, rosé, and white wine
- Alcohol-free mocktails
- Soft drinks
These drinks often look and taste like their alcoholic counterparts, allowing drivers to enjoy the night out without experiencing the impairment that would make it dangerous for them to drive themselves or others. Non-alcoholic beverages are widely available in clubs and bars, so there is no excuse to feel obligated to order an alcoholic beverage.
It is not worth taking a chance if you are the designated driver. You are risking the lives of your friends, family, and other road users by driving after consuming alcohol.
Seek Legal Advice if You are Injured in a Drunk Driving Accident
If your designated driver consumed alcohol and caused a crash in which you were injured, or if you were injured by another driver who had been drinking before driving, contact our Syracuse drunk driving injury lawyers. We guide you through the legal steps you should take to recover damages.