The Transport Ministry plans to have motorbikes nationwide tested for compliance with Euro II emission standards in a bid to reduce air pollution.
Trinh Ngoc Giao, head of the ministry's Registration Bureau, said the ministry would submit a proposal to the government this October under which pilot projects will be implemented in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
"Verification stations would be set up to inspect and issue Euro II emission stamps for motorbikes," he said.
The Euro II was set as the standard for all new cars and motorbikes early last year after a two-year trial in five cities - Hanoi, HCMC, Can Tho, Da Nang and Hai Phong.
Euro II places a cap of 0.05 percent concentration on emitted sulfur and limits benzene and aromatics content in fuel. Sulfur is blamed for causing acid rain and lung problems.
According to the proposal, from June 2010, several verification stations in Hanoi and HCMC would offer emission tests free for the first six months to motorists volunteering to take them.
Giao said the plan is to check Euro II compliance of all motorbikes in five cities - Hanoi, HCMC, Can Tho, Da Nang and Hai Phong - within the next five years before applying it nationwide.
He said the plan was feasible despite the difficulties in inspecting the large number of motorbikes, many of which are very old models.
He said the trial implementation would take several steps to ensure effective results.
"Only vehicles being registered 10 years ago will be inspected in the first year. Motorbikes that are seven, five and three years old would be gradually inspected in the following years.
"New motorbikes will not be checked for Euro II standards compliance for the first three years."
The Transport Ministry also plans to collect verification fees of VND50,000 (US$2.80) per motorbike, while the suggested fine for violations is VND300,000 ($16.80).
Motorbikes registered in other provinces would be required to be inspected before entering cities in the trial project, Giao said.
He also said the Registration Bureau would manage the stamps issued for qualified motorbikes through computer systems that connect all stations.
"We have researched the work in many other countries [and territories] where there are many motorbikes, including Thailand, Taiwan, India and China."
Extent of the problem
A recent study by the bureau found between 56 and 58 percent of motorbikes failing to meet the Euro II emission standards.
The random survey of 4,000 vehicles in Hanoi and HCMC found between 30 percent and 40 percent disqualified even after repairs and maintenance.
Researchers said most of the motorbikes disqualified after repairs were very old models, including some manufactured in China.
Another study in HCMC found air quality has reduced to alarmingly low levels from pollution caused by exhaust fumes from vehicles.
In the last three months, air quality monitoring stations at six major intersections have recorded an average dust concentration of 0.37-0.68 milligrams per cubic meter, which is 1.5-2.5 times higher than the level deemed safe.
Highly toxic carbon monoxide is on the increase, with a concentration of 0.22-0.38 micrograms per cubic meter, up to 1.5 times higher than in the last months of 2008.
The chronic presence of these contaminants in the air can cause acute pneumonia and bronchitis, and speed up aging, according to Health Department officials.
Nguyen Huu Tri, head of the Mechanized Vehicles Verification Department of the Vietnam Registration Bureau, said toxic gases from motorbikes account for up to 70 percent of air pollution in large cities.
According to the HCMC Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the contribution of motorbikes to air pollution in HCMC is about 80 percent.