Between 2011 and 2015 Volkswagen installed (but didn't tell anyone about) "defeat" software, which controlled the exhaust gas recirculation system - meaning the cars produced lower nitrogen oxide emissions in a lab test than they did in the real world.
Now with a damning report from the Australian Automobile Association revealing vehicles producing up to seven times the legal limit of some noxious emissions, experts are lobbying for a full-time switch to real-world testing.
The real-world tests detailed in the report also exposed 11 out of 12 diesel cars tested exceeding legal limits for noxious emissions.
Dr Graeme McLeay, a spokesperson for Doctors for the Environment Australia says the Federal Government "must urgently address worsening air pollution, particularly in urban areas, near to schools and busy roads."
"Transport emissions have been rising faster than any sector, and contribute to the leading causes of death in Australia," Dr McLeay said.
From the DEA:
Air pollution can lead to heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, lung cancer, dementia and asthma. Children exposed to such pollution have higher rates of asthma and school absence and show evidence of reduced lung function which persists into adulthood. Women exposed to greater levels of traffic pollution are more likely to have premature babies.
Diesel emissions, classified as a Class 1 carcinogen (directly linked to cancer), are of significant concern.
Dr McLeay says 3,000 people die from air pollution in Australia every year. As well as the cost of life, it costs the health system $11 to 24 billion per year.
The DEA wants the government to do a few things to fix the issue - with the most important to adopt real world driving condition emission tests of all new vehicles - as recommended in the AAA report.
Other measures include mandating vehicle emission standards which are equivalent to standards in comparable economies such as Europe or California. The DEA says Australia's vehicle emission and fuel standards are currently near the bottom of the OECD.
The group also wants to make sure stamp duty on new cars reflects both pollution potential and (like in the ACT) emissions of CO2 per kilometer instead of the vehicle's cost.
Other recommended measures are:
- Discourage the uptake of diesel cars in light of the health burden they impose by imposition of a pollution tax or other disincentive.
- Reduce the high sulphur content in petrol as it is preventing the adoption of less polluting, more efficient, vehicles and sulphur dioxide contributes significantly to poor air quality.
- Avoid much of the congestion and pollution in our cities by providing good, efficient public transport, preferably electrified, and prioritising pedestrian access and cycling lanes.
You can view the report here.