The New Zealand Motor Industry Association has given its full support to the government's new policy on vehicle exhaust emissions, which was announced last week by associate minister of transport Judith Tizard.

"This has been a long time coming, but the proposed new rules finally bring New Zealand into line with other developed countries in this vitally important area," said Motor Industry Association CEO Perry Kerr. "In conjunction with the progressive move to low-sulphur fuels, the new requirements will enable the country to look forward to a future in which pollution from vehicle exhausts is far less of a threat to public health than it is at present."

New passenger cars entering New Zealand have been meeting a variety of international emission standards for several years. The majority of used Japanese imported cars also meet emissions standards applying in Japan at the time that they were manufactured.

The government will now ensure that the emission systems on all vehicles continue to operate correctly by screening all used imported vehicles and by proposing that an emission test becomes part of the standard Warrant of Fitness or Certificate of Fitness check that all vehicles are required to undertake at regular intervals.

"We applaud the government's announcement," said Kerr. "Although the new regulations won't be fully effective until 2006 because of the time needed for consultation, training and installation of testing equipment, this is very well-considered policy which will have a beneficial effect on health in the community. In the meantime, we urge motorists and commercial vehicle operators to take heed of the government's supporting advice and ensure that their vehicles are properly maintained and kept in a good state of tune in order to minimise exhaust emissions."

The Motor Industry Association has campaigned for the introduction of vehicle emission rules since Michael Walsh, a US-based consultant who advises governments and international organisations such as the World Bank on air safety issues, expressed astonishment during a visit earlier this year that a country which promotes itself on its 'clean-green' image could be the only country in the OECD that lacks any legislation controlling vehicle exhaust emissions.

The MIA has claimed that at least 500 people in New Zealand die prematurely each year due to the effects of vehicle pollution, mainly in the form of carbon monoxide and carbon particulates from diesel vehicles.

Walsh said there are more than 35 days per year that vehicle pollution levels in the largest city, Auckland, exceed internationally-acceptable guidelines. This compares with New York City, where it has been several years since the guidelines have been breached. The difference is due to the use of low-sulphur diesel and low-benzene petrol, combined with rigid exhaust emission control systems on vehicles.

Although new cars sold in New Zealand have been virtually 100% compliant (on a voluntary basis) with overseas emission control legislation since 1997, there has been no legislation requiring effective pollution control equipment on the tens of thousands of used vehicles imported each year. Nor has there been an ongoing emissions check as part of the Warrant of Fitness test.