Press Releases

1998 Releases

Poll Finds Most Americans Have Used Designated Driver Concept

For immediate release: December 30, 1998

Boston, MA--The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) marks the tenth anniversary of its National Designated Driver Campaign this week as new data document its striking success: a 1998 Roper Poll finds that a majority of adults who drink have used the designated driver concept.

"Thanks to a combination of tough laws, strict enforcement, and the voluntary actions of designated drivers, alcohol-related traffic fatalities have fallen 31% over the past ten years," said Jay Winsten, an HSPH associate dean and the Frank Stanton Director of HSPH's Center for Health Communication.

The National Designated Driver Campaign, spearheaded by the Center's Harvard Alcohol Project in collaboration with leading television networks and Hollywood studios, demonstrated how a new social concept--the designated driver--could be rapidly diffused through the American culture via mass communication. Launched in late 1988, the Campaign soon became transformed into a national movement. A broad range of prominent individuals (e.g., President George Bush, President Bill Clinton, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop); government agencies (e.g., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention); national organizations and advocacy groups (e.g., Mothers Against Drunk Driving); professional sports leagues (e.g., Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association); major corporations (e.g., State Farm Insurance); leading police departments; and brewers and distillers have endorsed and promoted the designated driver concept.

According to the 1998 Roper Poll, 53% of adults who drink have served as a designated driver and/or been driven home by one. Among frequent drinkers who consumed five or more drinks in the past seven days, 62% had served as a designated driver and/or been driven home by one. The following is a breakdown of usage of the concept among adults who ever drink and among frequent drinkers:

Percentage of people surveyed who have been a designated driver and/or been driven home by one

  Ever Drinkers Frequent Drinkers
Total 53% 62%
Men 55% 63%
Women 52% 61%
Adults aged 18-29 64% 65%
Adults aged 30-44 60% 67%
Adults aged 45-59 48% 62%
Adults aged 60+ 29% 43%
Executives/Professionals 60% 70%
White collar workers 58% 66%
Blue collar workers 55% 63%
Influentials * 66% 75%
* First identified by Roper in the early 1940s, the Influential Americans are the opinion leaders of society, the approximately ten percent of the U.S. population who are most active in the affairs of their communities and the nation.

Source: Roper Starch Worldwide Inc., Roper Reports 98-3, 1998. Results of a survey conducted in March 1998 of 2,009 Americans aged 18 years and older.

"When we launched the National Designated Driver Campaign in late 1988, annual alcohol-related traffic fatalities stood at 23,626," Winsten said. "Last year, fatalities reached a low of 16,189. Using 1988 data as a baseline, we project that more than 50,000 lives will have been saved by the end of 1998, thanks to the nation's comprehensive strategy to prevent drinking and driving.

"By the late 1980s," Winsten recalled, "there was a need for a fresh new idea to recapture public and media interest and rejuvenate the movement against drinking and driving. The designated driver concept, invented in the Nordic countries, filled that role.

"My colleagues and I were attracted to the concept for several reasons. From a marketing perspective, it offers a very simple media message--an essential requirement for working effectively through mass communication. However, the concept's simplicity is the tip of an iceberg; beneath the surface is considerable complexity. The concept promotes a new social norm--a new social expectation--that the driver does not drink any alcohol; lends social legitimacy to the non-drinking option; encourages people to plan ahead when they are going out for the evening; and places the issue of driving after drinking on the interpersonal agendas of couples and small groups. In addition, the concept enjoys broad public support, engenders no opposition from economic interests, and asks for only a modest shift in behavior (e.g., it is not anti-alcohol)."

The Campaign broke new ground when television writers agreed to insert drunk driving prevention messages, including frequent references to the use of designated drivers, into the scripts of top-rated network series. With introductions arranged by Frank Stanton, former CBS president, and Grant Tinker, former NBC chairman, staff of the Harvard Alcohol Project held meetings with over 250 executive producers, senior producers, and chief writers from all the leading prime-time shows. More than 160 prime-time programs included subplots, scenes, dialogue, or (in over 25 instances) entire 30-minute or 60-minute episodes supporting the Campaign.

Fueled by the overall national effort, the concept became embedded in American life and language so quickly that by 1991 the term designated driver was included in the Random House Webster's College Dictionary.

For further information, please contact:
Center for Health Communication 
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue 
Boston, MA 02115 
Phone: 617-432-1038 
Fax: 617-731-8184