Last year, the previous Mobility Minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) had announced a serious update for "soot tests" at car inspection centres (Belgians have to present their cars at technical check centres each year after their car has reached 4 years of age). The present tests are no longer up to modern standards and fail to catch big polluters.
The new tools were ready, inspection centres were almost ready. However, his successor Lydia Peeters (liberal) decided to leave things as they are. She can do this, because the EU hasn't imposed stricter norms yet. The EU is working on it, but it could take several years before the rules are being adapted. Peeters argues that "she doesn't want to impose too many rules" and that "air pollution doesn't stop at the border." However, member states are free to do better than the European norms if they want.
Many of the most polluting cars can enter low-emission zones, an absurd situation
Experts say that the present technologies used to check cars' emission levels of particulate matter and soot are about 30 years old and no longer up to modern standards. This has major consequences: the tests are unable to trace fraud with soot filters, or excess emission levels by cars having a soot filter problem (of which owners are often unaware).
As long as the new tests are not being introduced, the most polluting cars can't be caught. The Flemish motoring organisation VAB calculated that 165,000 cars in Belgium are highly polluting because the soot filter has been deliberately removed or has a problem.
The good work of modern diesel cars undone
The consequences are huge: this group of polluting cars destroys the benefits of 746 million modern diesel cars (with very low pollution levels due the latest technologies), the VAB calculated. And there's more: if these polluting cars are younger than 10 years, they can enter any low-emission zone (LEZ) in cities like Ghent, Brussel and Antwerp. "An absurd situation", the VAB underlines. "We should have these new tests quickly to improve air quality across the country."