<i>Canberra Times</i> journalist Phillip Thomson during the test.

Canberra Times journalist Phillip Thomson during the test. Photo: Jay Cronan

TO A drugged-up driver in Canberra, there can be no more uncomfortable sight than four little red lines inside an innocuous piece of plastic.

Once those red lines appear, it is off to the station.

Your car stays by the side of the road, exposed to any other lawbreakers who want to kick in the windows, urinate on the passenger seat, rip out the sound system or have a crack at hot-wiring it and driving away.

The device used to show if drivers have drugs in their system.

The device used to show if drivers have drugs in their system. Photo: Jay Cronan

In the past, the police took responsibility for a person's car if they were taken to the station.

For the police it was a public-liability nightmare, but now the law is clear: if you take drugs and drive, you cannot expect other people to look after your car when you get hauled in.

So far this year, 84 drivers on ACT roads have seen the four accusatory red lines appearing before them.

It took 1720 roadside drug tests to nab them.

That might seem like a low strike rate to some, but it works out to be one in 20 drivers who are drug-tested.

The tests were introduced in the territory in May 2011 despite concerns from civil liberty groups about their accuracy, which soon showed a 100 per cent success rate.

Doing a test this past week, I was asked by a police officer to swirl my tongue around the inside of my mouth.

My mind started to think of ways a drug user could beat the system - not swirling the tongue around the whole mouth, perhaps - but I was told this process had nothing to do with the ability of the ''drug wipe'' to pick up the presence of drugs.

The wipe can pick up the tiniest traces of illegal drugs.

How sensitive is it? Apparently, the best analogy is to think of a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic pool of water.

The tongue swirling is more related to the need of people swallowing or removing food from their mouth and generating saliva.

I was asked to run the swab along my tongue from back to front. The officer broke a piece of the plastic to allow the chemical test to take place.

If a driver tests positive after the first roadside sample, their licence is suspended for 12 hours. A second test at the station judges whether the first test was read correctly. Another saliva sample is sent away for a final result.

I am told the mouths of some methamphetamine users are so dry this final testing process can take 30 minutes.

I do not get past the first test.

I am clean, but for those who want to party and drive at the same time, a first offence means a court appearance and a fine of up to $1100.

Repeat offenders can be forced to pay $2750 and receive three months in prison.

That should cause a lot of drugged-up drivers to see red.