The Government has decided against idle testing of vehicles to check for harmful emissions, saying such testing would have proved more expensive than first thought.
However, Associate Transport Minister Judith Tizard has asked Ministry of Transport officials to find other ways to clean up the New Zealand vehicle fleet including considering a visual smoke test as part of a warrant of fitness check.
The Ministry of Transport had proposed emissions screening of all vehicles as part of their warrant of fitness checks.
Ms Tizard said yesterday that results from the pilot testing programme indicated methods other than the "simple idle test" needed to be investigated.
Research showed that would prove more expensive to do than first thought.
A spokeswoman for Ms Tizard said it was initially thought it would cost between $4 and $10 per test. But consultation with industry had determined it would cost about $35 and perhaps as much as $60 per test.
Simple testing also produced an "unacceptable level" of false results.
Ms Tizard also said the test was unlikely to deliver the improved health results the Government wanted from a testing regime.
The other initiatives officials would look at would focus on finding ways to hasten the uptake of "clean technology vehicles" and encourage the disposal of old vehicles.
She said officials would look at a visual smoke test as part of the warrant of fitness check.
This would essentially move the "10-second rule" from the roadside to the workshop, she said.
In March 2001, a new regulation came in making it an offence to operate a vehicle that produced excessive exhaust smoke for more than 10 seconds.
Ms Tizard said the Government wanted to tackle the problem of harmful vehicle emissions which could contribute to problems such as premature death, heart disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses.
An estimated 10 per cent of vehicles accounted for up to 40 per cent of New Zealand's harmful vehicle emissions.
Motor Trade Association spokesman Nick Hill said the Government had been forced to recognise the practicalities involved in its plan for a comprehensive screening programme by 2006.
The MTA applauded the Government decision as anything other than a workable system could never be an option.
More modern vehicle and fuel technology would progressively reduce the size of the problem.
"But the most important reality is that a high standard of vehicle maintenance is the key to immediate efficient control of emissions."
Mr Hill said driver education and policing of the more simple tests envisaged would generate awareness of the need to maintain vehicles.
The MTA supported the "phased" approach suggested to manage the vehicle emission problem.
For some years yet there would still be older cars on the road so, in the meantime, "we have to get the best out of what we've got".
Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said that after a two-year pilot study, the Government still had no plan to clean up vehicle emissions.
"It is staggering that just days after announcing a study that found vehicle emissions kill over 400 New Zealanders a year and cost our health system $400 million, the Government has abandoned its plan to clean up vehicle emissions," Ms Fitzsimons said.
The Green Party understood the pilot programme had found the technology did not give accurate enough results and a change of approach was needed.
"What shocks us is that it seems there is no plan."
She said it should be an offence to remove pollution-controlling equipment - such as catalytic converters - from imported cars.
Europe and Japan had emissions testing that worked and had far cleaner vehicles than New Zealand did as a result.