The leader of the Green party is calling on the Brussels Minister-President to urge police zones to confiscate the cars of street racers, saying that weakly enforced fines aren’t enough to address the growing problem.
“Street racing is a problem in the Brussels region,” Groen Party leader Arnaud Verstraete told The Brussels Times.
“It has a very big impact not only on the quality of life in our city’s neighbourhoods but on road safety in and of itself. There are victims - there are people getting killed by street racers.”
Verstraete cited the incident of a 28-year-old journalist who was killed crossing a street in 30 kph zone after being struck by a Mercedes going over 80 kph.
“People are terrified by these drivers going outrageous speeds in our streets,” he said.
“It makes them feel unsafe. They don't feel comfortable leaving their house and the regular approach of just giving a fine doesn't really work. We need more than that.”
Police can seize the vehicle of someone caught street racing for anywhere from five to 30 days depending on the amount by which they were speeding and whether or not it’s a repeat offender, but Verstraete says this is rarely done.
One reason is that such action previously couldn’t be taken without the on-site permission of a specific judicial official, making it all but impossible for individual police officers to do anything but write a ticket after catching someone in the act.
While a new interpretation of the law (which has been successfully deployed in Flanders) allows police officers to seize a car without this special permission if they can argue that the vehicle was being used as a weapon, only half of the police zones in Brussels are taking advantage of the new enforcement capability.
Police in zones North and Brussels-Capital Ixelles started seizing cars of street racers in 2020. The North police zone impounded 26 cars and 81 were seized in the Brussels-Capital Ixelles zone.
Zone West is now the third to start taking this approach.
“I’m asking for [Minister-President Rudi Vervoort] to not passively wait for all the zones to do it themselves but to insist that they do it, and that in his role as a coordinator he formalise a uniform approach to the subject,” said Verstraete, who emphasised that simply issuing fines is not enough.
“Enforcement is quite weak in Brussels. The probability that you get a fine for street racing is not high enough. Then, when you do get a fine when you're caught in the act, the probability that you get into difficulties if you don't pay is not high enough either.”
Vervoort did announce his intent to increase the size of the administrative centre responsible for processing fines to its maximum capacity of 14 employees in an effort to improve that follow-through.
“Even if this approach works better, it's not enough,” said Verstraete.
“If you can afford a Mercedes-AMG to joy ride around with, then a fine of a few hundred euros won't hold you back.”
He wants more control checks on the streets, more fines, more follow-through on those that are issued and most of all, more seizures of vehicles.
“This isn’t like other mobility issues where there’s disagreement - everybody is angry with this street racing phenomenon,” Verstraete said.
“For people who engage in this behaviour, their car is very important to them - it's hard for them to not have their car for a week, even harder to miss it for a month,” he explained.
What's more, many of the expensive cars being raced through the streets of Brussels are actually short-term rentals. Confiscating them would therefore have a greater financial impact on the person renting it than a fine.
“If you confiscate the car, you hit them in their wallet, and it will affect them.”