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Designated Driver Campaign Working, Says Inventor


January 1998

Since the designated driver campaign began in 1988, drunken driving deaths on U.S. roads have dropped by more than 25%, from 23,628 in 1988 to 17,126 in 1996. An estimated 38,000 lives have been saved in those 10 years, said Jay Winsten, director of Harvard's Center for Health Communication, which invented the designated driver program (Associated Press, "Designated Driver Campaign Working," Houston Chronicle, November 30, 1997, p. A14).

Each year, according to Winsten, much of the reduction in deaths is the result of stricter drunk-driving laws enacted over the past 10 years, the increase in the drinking age to 21 in every state, and the ubiquitous designated driver campaign. Each year about 73 million Americans say they have either served as a designated driver or been driven home by one, a number that has remained constant since 1992, Winsten said.

Since 1992, alcohol- related fatalities have hovered in the 17,000 range, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Jim Hedlund of the NHTSA said the NHTSA has set a goal of reducing alcohol-related traffic deaths to 11,000 by the year 2005. The NHTSA advocates lowering the legal blood alcohol driving limit to 0.08%, as 15 states have already done, and stricter law enforcement.

More measures for repeat offenders are needed such as mandatory treatment programs, and license and vehicle confiscation, said Ralph Hingson, chairman of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at Boston University School of Public Health. "We can't sort of assume that we've got the legislation in place and that will handle the problem," Hingson said.

Jay Winsten, Center for Health and Communications, Harvard School of Public Health - 677 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115, Tel: (617) 432-1038.

NHTSA - 400 7th Street, Washington, DC 20590, Tel: (202) 366-9550.

Ralph Hingson, Social &Behavioral Sciences Dept., Boston Univ. School of Public Health - (617) 638-5160.