Dealing with the harmful effects of vehicle emissions

  • Judith Tizard


Tena kotou, tena kotou, tena tatau katoa

Thank you for coming along today.

I would like to take just a few minutes of your time to update you about our Vehicle Emissions policy.

Emissions initiatives

The government, with the support of the Greens, is committed to tackling the health and environmental impacts associated with vehicle emissions.

There is strong evidence about the link between vehicle emissions and health problems such as premature mortality, heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma – particularly in children and older people.

We estimate about 400 people die prematurely each year due to harmful vehicle exhaust emissions. And we now know that the cost to the Crown Account to cover the harmful health effects of vehicle emissions is about $442 million a year.

We have revised fuel specifications, leading to the progressive reduction of the sulphur content in diesel fuels, making New Zealand diesel cleaner and bringing it into line with European standards by 2006. And we're looking to do more to bring biofuels to market.

We now require vehicles entering the country to meet an approved emissions standard when they were manufactured.

These two initiatives 'cleaner fuel and cleaner cars' are designed to cut harmful vehicle emissions significantly, in the longer term. Preliminary figures indicate the move to ultra-low sulphur diesel alone will contribute to a 30 percent reduction in premature deaths each year.
We have also been looking into practical initiatives to ensure our current vehicle fleet is as clean as it can be, which is primarily why I asked you here today.

Discussion document feedback

In November last year, the Ministry of Transport consulted on its proposals for ‘simple testing’.

Many of you will have made a submission and I thank you for doing so.

Submitters endorsed the aim of reducing the harmful health and environmental effects of vehicle emissions, which is very encouraging.

Submitters gave conditional support for the Ministry’s proposal, with the following provisos:

  • That the ‘simple idle test’ for petrol vehicles and the ‘snap acceleration test’ for diesel vehicles identify the worst polluting vehicles;
  • That real, measurable improvements in air quality and health outcomes result;
  • That costs to vehicle owners are kept low – and set up costs to the industry are manageable;
  • That there is flexibility according to vehicle age, type and engine technology, including exemptions; and
  • That the public and industry are kept informed and given plenty of notice.

Effectiveness of simple testing

In addition to the submissions, we have also received the draft findings from the pilot project. Although the final report will not be available until June, when it comes back from local and international peer review, the early results on the effectiveness of simple testing are clear.

The findings show the ‘idle test’ for petrol vehicles, and the ‘snap acceleration test’ for diesel vehicles, both produce an unacceptable level of false-positive and false-negative results.

The graph on the screen shows this quite clearly. On the one axis are the results from a series of Inspection and Maintenance Program 240-second dynamometer tests. The IM240 is considered the “gold standard” of vehicle emissions tests as it simulates actual on road driving conditions. On the other axis are the results from simple testing – high idle tests in this case, as this has a better correlation than the basic idle test.

A clear relationship between the IM240 results and the high-idle results would have the points falling on a diagonal line. Instead there is a very wide scatter.

Of concern is the relatively high number of vehicles in this sample that would have passed the high-idle test, but are actually high on-road emitters. Also of concern are those who would have been told that their cars needed work, but actually didn’t.

Cost and practicality

When the preliminary proposal was first conceived, back in 2003, the indications were that the simple test would cost motorists between $4 and $10 per test. Today, the inspection and repair industry tell us the cost would likely to be much higher.

Then there is the cost of equipment and the need for suitably trained technicians.

There was also a concern raised about the impact on rural and regional drivers.


After careful consideration, I have concluded that implementing the simple test as proposed across the entire vehicle fleet places too great a burden on motorists and the vehicle industry, without the requisite returns.

Therefore, I have decided that the proposed introduction of emissions screening in late 2006 will not now proceed.

After ten years and millions of dollars of research, Australia has reached the same conclusion on the effectiveness of such a regime.

The vehicle fleet and technology

The make up of the New Zealand vehicle fleet is unique, due to its high level of imported used Japanese vehicles and vehicles sourced from all around the world.

As each year passes, technology and emissions improve – over time this will lead to improvements in the emissions performance of the NZ vehicle fleet.

Many new vehicles now carry ‘on-board diagnostics’ or OBD. This technology allows the engine management system to continually monitor and adjust the engine to maintain optimum emissions performance.

By way of an example, Ministry officials recently visited an emissions testing research facility in Sydney operated by the New South Wales Road Transport Authority. They observed a popular late model petrol-powered car undergo an IM240 dynamometer test.

The print out - now up on the screen – shows the vehicle is virtually a ‘zero emissions vehicle’ – in terms of harmful health emissions.

International experience shows us that an effective way to tackle emissions over the long-term is by setting high emissions standards for vehicles entering the fleet.

As I mentioned earlier, we now have in place minimum standards requiring vehicles entering the fleet to have been manufactured to the relevant emissions standard applying in the country of manufacture, at the time of manufacture.

However, the standard is “time-locked” for imported used vehicles. A used vehicle imported today and manufactured in 1997, for example, is only required to meet the standard that applied in 1997.

We need to look into ways to progressively raise the emissions standard at entry for these vehicles too.

It is often said that we are a ‘technology taker’ in world terms. But this can work to our advantage by allowing us to introduce newer, cleaner engine technologies – both petrol and diesel – sooner.

I am suggesting a progressive ratcheting-up of emissions standards at the New Zealand border for imported used vehicles, allowing plenty of time for the industry and car buyers to adjust.

In-service emissions performance

Updating the vehicle fleet to newer technology and introducing cleaner fuels will make a big difference. But it still leaves the question of how we can be sure that the present fleet of vehicles performs well and stays ‘clean’, at a reasonable cost.

We introduced the ‘10-second rule’ in 2001, making it an offence to operate a vehicle producing excessive smoke for longer than 10 seconds. We have all had the unpleasant experience of being stuck behind a car or truck belching acrid, black smoke – and of thinking ‘why doesn’t someone do something about it?’

The Auckland Regional Council, Greater Wellington and others have run a number of very effective campaigns targeting the worst vehicles. I thank them for their efforts and wish to reassure them that we will continue to develop initiatives that help them meet the National Environmental Standard for Air Quality (NES).

Getting these smoky vehicles off the road and requiring the owners to get the problem sorted out is a matter of enforcement.

To supplement on-road enforcement, I have asked Ministry officials to investigate implementing a visual smoke test as part of the warrant and certificate of fitness check, that takes into account classic vehicles. Such a test would consist of a straightforward, subjective visual smoke test, similar to that used in the UK. Vehicles belching smoke would require repair before a warrant or certificate of fitness could be issued.

I have also asked officials to investigate the more systematic use of remote sensing at the roadside, particularly in urban areas, in conjunction with local government. Again, the goal would be to have vehicles comply with the ‘10-second’ rule.

These two initiatives – visual inspection and remote sensing – would allow us to ‘weed-out’ the worst polluters, at minimal cost, without subjecting the entire vehicle fleet to an intrusive and costly testing regime.

Other initiatives

Looking forward to the next steps, I want officials to investigate other initiatives such as:

  • Restrictions on modifications that reduce the effectiveness of a vehicle’s emissions control system.
  • Encouraging government and other fleet managers to purchase low emission vehicles, and the promotion of “Clean Fleet” programmes for truck and bus firms, especially for public transport fleets operating in urban areas.
  • Targeting high mileage vehicles, including diesel vehicles and especially those driving in inner-city areas such as buses, taxis, couriers and delivery vehicles, for emissions testing.
  • Targeting specific regions with specific air-quality issues including the creation of “low emission zones” in inner cities, and
  • Incentives for the removal and disposal of ‘end-of-life’ vehicles from the fleet.


At the outset, I made a commitment to ensuring the emissions regime is fair, equitable, workable, and will not unduly penalise the vast majority of responsible motorists.

I believe the measures announced today honour that commitment.

The government remains determined to reduce the harmful health and environmental effects of vehicle exhaust emissions.

The New Zealand vehicle fleet is large, extremely diverse and, in emissions terms, poorly equipped.

As a nation, we have come to this problem late. We have made good progress, but trying to turn back the clock on the current vehicle fleet is futile.

New vehicle and fuel technologies coming on stream will make the biggest difference toward cleaner air and healthier people.

The proposed emissions screening programme planned for introduction in late 2006 will not now proceed.

The programme will likely be replaced with a visual check for excess smoke as part of the warrant or certificate of fitness check, based on the current ’10 second’ smoky vehicle rule. Subject to the normal consultation process, we could have the visual test in place in time to meet the late 2006 deadline.

We will look into systematic roadside remote sensing, and there will be a new focus on finding ways to hasten the uptake of ‘clean’ technology vehicles and on encouraging the removal and disposal of ‘end-of-life’ vehicles from the fleet.

I’m optimistic that by working together, being sensitive of each other’s needs, and by keeping an open mind, we can come up with a workable and affordable package of measures that reduce even further the appalling health problems associated with vehicle emissions.