ROADSIDE drug tests will be introduced for Irish drivers from next month.
Gardai will be able to check drivers' eyes for dilated pupils and carry out other physical co-ordination tests. The tests will also include ordering a driver to stand on one leg and walk in a straight line.
Motorists who pass the drink-driving breath test and appear intoxicated cannot currently be checked for drugs at the roadside. But the scourge of drug-driving has become a serious threat to lawful road users.
Other checks on steadiness will include drivers opening and shutting their eyes to detect possible drug use.
Under the new law, a driver who refuses to submit to the roadside test can be fined €5,000 and be jailed for six months.
With more than 700 drug-driving convictions a year, road safety experts and gardai believe the new laws will lead to a surge in new convictions.
It means that 'high' drivers who think they can beat the system by not consuming alcohol will run a far higher risk of being arrested.
Gardai who form an opinion that a driver is on drugs after failing the impairment test can then arrest them and bring them to the local garda station.
There they will have to submit to a blood or urine sample and will be prosecuted if they test positive.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said there was increasing evidence that more and more drivers were under the influence of drugs.
"A lot of young people who would not dream of driving under the influence of alcohol would smoke a joint and drive," he said.
"This new roadside impairment drug test will be another weapon in the arsenal of the gardai."
Officers are being shown how to develop drug-drive recognition techniques by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.
The move comes as research by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) reveals that one in five people (22pc) aged between 17 and 34 admits being a passenger in a car being driven by a person high on drugs.
Alarmingly, one in 20 drivers admitted to driving under the influence of drugs in the past.
Driving while on drugs is regarded by road safety chiefs as just as dangerous as drink-driving.
Noel Brett, RSA chief executive, welcomed the new drug test and said it would greatly help to reduce the scourge of drug-driving.