A new survey has found that the majority of young Canadians of legal drinking age are appointing "designated drivers" when out in social settings where alcohol is being consumed, with 78 per cent of respondents having served as a designated driver at some point in the last three years.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid for Labatt Breweries, found that 21 per cent of survey respondents had served as designated drivers "all of the time" for their friends and family over the last three years.

A "designated driver" is the person in a group who commits to not drinking alcohol so he or she can drive others who have imbibed home safely.

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents said they had served as a designated driver for friends and family "sometimes" over the last three years.

Together, the 78 per cent of respondents who had served as a designated driver at least once during the past three years estimate they had taken an average of 19 trips.

The survey sampled 1,318 Canadians between the ages of 18 to 34 from across Canada. According to Ipsos, the survey is accurate to within +/- 3.1 percentage points.

According to Ipsos Reid senior vice-president John Wright, the research shows that, after roughly 30 years of public health and safety campaigns against drinking and driving, young Canadians are heeding the message.

"We’ve seen an entire generation who has been talked to by all kinds of different voices, by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), attorney generals, police departments, stakeholders and industry folks," Wright told CTV’S Canada AM. "The results are incredible."

Of the respondents who had served as designated driver, the study also found:

  • 96 per cent said that taking on the role is the responsible thing to do
  • 94 per cent said that they feel good about doing "the right thing" when they are designated drivers
  • 90 per cent said it made sense for everyone to take a turn being the designated driver
  • 52 per cent said, as the designated driver, it was difficult to have as much fun as friends

The study also found that approximately 85 per cent of Canadians agreed that if designated drivers got more credit for the important role they play in society, more would step forward and perform the task. The same percentage said they felt designated drivers are "cool."

Wright said this last point was critical, and serves as the basis for a new generation of ad campaigns which will focus on congratulating designated drivers for their responsible actions.

He described a new ad campaign by Budweiser that is about a group of young people "celebrating for their friend who is seen with a bottle of water."

He added that while more work has to be done to combat drinking and driving, the ad is a major step in recognizing the steps young people have taken to increasingly make designating a sober driver a social norm.

"This is a generation now that looks at it and says ‘What do you mean designated driving? Isn’t it something we all do?'" he said.

Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canda, welcomed the survey results but said that as much as designated drivers help the problem, they may also contribute to it.

"In actuality, usually the designated driver is the person who has drank the least, especially among young people," he said. "We believe in the program as long as the designated driver is alcohol-free."

He added: "Designated driver doesn’t mean a little bit of alcohol, it means none."

Murie said licenced establishments should do more to recognize the designated driver and ensuring that person does not drink.

He said he was looking forward to hearing more about potential changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws, which Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government was considering last week.

"It’s great as long as, unlike past governments, they don’t solely focus on penalties," he said, adding that more emphasis should be placed on prevention such as random breathalyzer tests