The UK seeks powers to bring criminal charges against emission cheats

23 May 2018

23 May 2018

The UK Government is planning to bring criminal charges against vehicle manufacturers that cheat emissions testing, as the European Commission looks to take enforcement action on the country.

Ministers are seeking powers to recall vehicles immediately should they emit illegal levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx), which is linked to respiratory issues and air pollution. The announcement of new powers, which the government seeks to introduce in summer, come as part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Clean Air Strategy. This is expected to be an addition to the forthcoming ′Road to Zero’ plan.

However, new legislation will be required to bring any charges, while proving that vehicles engineered outside the UK were built to cheat tests will be difficult. Yet the Government is adamant that such measures are required to prevent another scandal such as Dieselgate, which broke in 2015 and brought in new regulatory measures in Europe and beyond.

According to the Financial Times, British ministers have faced repeated court challenges from the ClientEarth environmental law group for not taking action over high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked with up to 9,400 premature deaths a year in London alone.

Non-exhaust sources

The Strategy also states that particulate matter from brake pads and other non-exhaust sources will also come under scrutiny. It states: ′These particles are harmful to human health and the environment – and a source of microplastics in our oceans. The proportion of total emissions from non-exhaust sources has increased because of action to reduce emissions from other sources, including vehicle exhaust emission standards. We will undertake a call for evidence on tyre and brake wear. Building on this, we will work with international partners seeking to develop new international regulations for particulate emissions from tyres and brakes through the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.’

According to the Government, emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by almost 27% between 2010 and 2016 and are also at their lowest level since records began. However, road transport, shipping, aviation and rail are responsible for a significant proportion of air pollutant emissions: 50% of nitrogen oxides.

The plans are now available for public consultation, with the final plan expected to be unveiled in March 2019.

The European Commission has referred France, Germany and the UK for failure to respect limit values for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and for not taking appropriate measures to keep exceedance periods as short as possible.

Additionally, the Commission opened infringement proceedings against the UK in 2016 over its lack of action regarding vehicles with defeat devices and announced recently that it had written to the UK Government for clarification of steps it is taking to progress against these concerns.