At a party or other place that results in a lot of drinking on TV, especially if the place is far enough away to require driving, there is usually one person, pre-selected or out of his/her own volition, who has to not drink at all in order to remain sober enough to drive the other partygoers/drinkers home safely. This is known as the designated driver. This is a Truth in Television, as most times in order to follow road safety laws, people aren't allowed to drive home if drunk. This trope has become somewhat in decline in later years, especially with the rise of rideshare apps that make it more convenient to acquire rides.
It should not be confused with either Designated Hero or Designated Villain, which deals with something else entirely. If the designated driver's companions are doing things rather more dangerous than drinking, that's a Getaway Driver (although overlap is not impossible, depending on how able-bodied the drunk are).
- Knights of the Dinner Table: Identifying yourself as the Designated Driver at Hawg Wallers means free soda for the night.
- Referenced in Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Aladdin's preparing for his wedding and Genie does a gag about a bachelor party with beers and (himself as) a stripper; and then as a secondary punchline he takes the alcohol away from the Magic Carpet because it's the "designated flyer".
- Subverted in The World's End. When the five men discover the Alien Invasion in their hometown during the pub crawl, they discuss whether they should head back to London and let Andy drive since he is teetotal. Cue to Andy drinking five shots in a row as a reaction of what they've just seen.
- Super Troopers after the Highway Patrol Office is shut down, the officers down shots. Rabbit noticeably does not drink and is the one driving them around afterward. Chief O'Halloran even at one point orders Rabbit to get out of the car and help him, as "I need someone sober". This is also pointed out in the DVD Commentary, to emphasize they weren't endorsing drunk driving.
- Pyotr is a designated driver for any patron who requires one in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. He is also an ethical vampire who siphons off nutrients and toxins from blood in exchange. This has the beneficial side-effect of his 'clients' waking up without a hangover.
- Given that Cheers takes place at a bar, this trope is inevitable.
Carla: Sorry, Norm. Until the night is through, you're still the designated driver.Norm: Right. I know that and you know that, but did you have to call every bar in town and tell them?
- The B-plot of one episode has a drawing for the night's designated driver and Norm "wins". He ends up driving everyone else home while being forced to remain sober the entire night.
- Another episode opens with Sam offering to call a cab for a trio of men who have been drinking the entire night. One of them mentions that another is their designated driver. It then turns out all of them thought that another of them was the designated driver. Sam calls them a cab.
- Joked with in another episode. The guys go to a new burger place and gorge themselves. Frasier complains that he only got to eat one. Norm explains that was because he's the designated driver.
- Community: The study group goes to a bar to celebrate Troy's 21st birthday; however, since it's the night before, he has to wait until midnight for his first drink. As he waits for midnight, his friends all become intoxicate, exposing various flaws and insecurities; when midnight finally comes, he elects to forgo his drink and instead make sure they all get home safely.
- The Good Place: Eleanor has several flashbacks to when she was alive on Earth and she and her coworkers would go out for drinks. Whenever it was her turn to be the designated driver, she would do everything she could to get out of it, including lying that another person had been chosen or making up excuses when she was called on it. Eventually her coworkers got sick of it and told her she couldn't have drinks with them anymore if she couldn't own up...so she blew them off so she could hook up with the bartender.
- Inverted on the Monk episode Mr. Monk Is the Best Man. Because Stottlemeyer let Monk plan his bachelor's party, Monk supplied 12-ounce bottles of beer to each of the 12 members, resulting in 144 ounces total. In Stottlemeyer's words, that meant they only had enough to make them just slightly sleepy (i.e.,, not drunk enough to require designated driving), or to give it all to one of the members to make him very polluted and make him the Designated Drunk. The majority of the partygoers ultimately go with the latter decision, and Randy Disher volunteers to become the "designated drunk".
- Mentioned on Little Mosque on the Prairie, where the local Muslim population suddenly becomes incredibly popular at around Holiday season and are invited to all the parties, because the Christians need sober people to drive them home.
- After Kai dumps Nick in New Girl, he's determined to take everyone out on a bar crawl. Winston is the designated driver, and brings along a backpack full of miscellaneous items for the night.
Winston: Here in my backpack, I have a list of items that we may need. I got water, so... I got towels for everybody. Perfect. I got... small stick. Speaks for itself. Oh. Oh. Also... one female condom.
- Inversion: Industrial band Caustic refers to a "Designated Drinker" due to frontman Matt Fanale's sobriety.
- Montell Jordan's 1995 hit "This Is How We Do It" contains the lyric
So I reach for my 40 and I turn it upDesignated driver take the keys to my truck
- In one line of "Beer Run", Garth Brooks laments that it's his turn to drive.
- Hollywood Undead: In "Everywhere I Go", Charlie Scene states he is the "designated drinker", an obvious parody of this trope.
- One Jeff Foxworthy bit is about things you can do if you're a designated driver. For example, drop everyone off at the wrong house. Preferably in their boss' front yard.
"Where the hell are my flamingos?"
- Captain Amish of Atomic Laundromat once acted as the designated driver for a number of superheroes. Unfortunately, it didn't work very well. As he is Amish, his "car" is a horse and buggy, and, while the good Captain is a teetotaler, his horse isn't.
- El Goonish Shive: Ashley mentions that she used to be the designated coffee maker a lot back in California, and she was invited to parties specifically because she didn't drink. She's actually relieved to find out that there won't be any alcohol at the party Tedd is throwing.
- This is how Lindesfarne's pregnancy is revealed in Kevin & Kell: Fenton hears her hurling in the bathroom and remembered that everyone had overindulged last night because it was New Year's...then his eyes open in shock when he remembers that she was the designated driver...
- From Stand Still, Stay Silent we get Tuuri Hotakainen. However, the trope is played with a lot: she's appointed the Designated Driver for the team as... the rest of the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits can't actually drive to save their lives, rather than have any plans to get too drunk to. She's the only one who knows how to work gears and all the other steps you need to do, even though she's not exactly had a lot of practice actually being behind the wheel, either. They had to straight up abandon the vehicle after Tuuri commits suicide after catching The Rash.
- In the first Christmas Episode of Family Guy, Peter is forced to assume this role and not join in the drunken antics of his friends because Joe already had a few glasses of eggnog.
- The Simpsons:
- Subverted in "Homer vs the 18th Amendment", where Moe tells all of the arriving patrons that it is going to be the biggest drinking day of the year due to it being St. Patrick's Day, and asks for the Designated Drivers to identify themselves. He then tells them, "Beat it. I have no time for cheapskates."
- "Pygmoelian": The Simpsons go to a beer festival and the man at the entrance if Marge or Homer will be the designated driver. Marge looks at Homer, who looks like a kid about to enter a candy store, and acknowledges she is. The man leads Marge away from her family and puts her in a make-shift barb wire prison to keep her from any alcohol.
- In the episode "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson", Moe's Tavern has to introduce a designated driver policy due to his patrons being responsible for most car accidents. Everyone draws from a jar of pickled eggs, and whoever gets the black egg is the driver. It's Barney who loses, and the withdrawal caused by a whole night of sobriety leads to him illegally parking Homer's car...in New York City.
- In "Marge be Not Proud", one of the educational films Troy McClure starred in was titled, Designated Drivers: The Lifesaving Nerds.
- In "Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words", Homer asks one of the stuffed animals at Lisa's pretend tea party to drive him home because he's drunk.