Drivers in Quebec who get behind the wheel while high on drugs are being warned that police in the province now have effective ways of spotting them, figuring out what they’re on, and charging them with impaired driving.

The province’s public auto insurance corporation, the SAAQ, has launched its first awareness campaign to let drivers know that police can detect when a driver is under the influence of drugs.

"Impaired driving is usually associated with drinking and driving,” SAAQ president Nathalie Tremblay, said in a statement Tuesday. “It is true that alcohol remains a major cause of accidents in Quebec, but drugs are a problem that must also be addressed.”

Many drivers who drive while high assume police can’t charge them because breathalyzer tests detect only alcohol, not marijuana, cocaine, or any other illicit drugs.

But Quebec police are increasingly using a 10-minute roadside test, involving three tasks designed to reveal whether drivers are under the influence of drugs:

  • An eye-movement test (following a moving pencil)
  • A walk test (walking and turning on a straight line)
  • A balance test (standing on one leg)

Police say when they do the roadside test, high drivers tend to stand out pretty quickly.

“Drivers on drugs are very, very intoxicated. They fall on the floor. We have to hold them up,” Quebec City Const. Nancy Roussel explained to CTV Montreal Tuesday.

Those who fail the roadside test are then taken to a police station for given a much more involved 45-minute test that can detect the the physical signs of drug intoxication.

Police claim their tests can prove, with 95 per cent accuracy, what type of drugs the driver has ingested. For example, the pupils of someone who has ingested GHB will move in an erratic fashion, while someone on marijuana will have a brownish-greenish tongue.

And drivers don’t have much leeway in terms of refusing to do the test, as charges will be laid against those who decline.

The penalties for driving while impaired on drugs are the same as those for driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.08. They include fines of $1,000 or more, a one-year licence suspension, and the possibility of a criminal record.

Driving while intoxicated on drugs is a growing and serious problem. In Québec, legal or illegal drugs were detected in the blood of almost 30 per cent of drivers who died in road accidents between 2006 and 2010.

Police remind drivers that many kinds of illegal and prescription drugs can impair driving and that who drive while high are not only exposing themselves to stiff penalties, they are putting their lives and the lives of others at risk.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Max Harrold