Study says excess diesel vehicle emissions killed 38,000 people in 2015Enlarge (credit: Rishabh Mishra)
When Volkswagen’s diesel scandal broke in 2015, much was made of how the cars spewed the pollutant nitrogen oxide (NOx) in dramatic excess of regulators’ standards during real-world driving.

But that wasn’t what ultimately got VW Group in trouble with officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and European Union regulators.

The key problem was that diesel VWs, Audis, and even Porsches included undisclosed “defeat devices,” or lines of code in the car’s software, that regulators didn’t know about.

This code permitted the diesel cars to run cleaner in a lab than on the road.
In most cases, regulators know that vehicles will run dirtier during some real-world driving conditions than they do during the lab tests.

They also know that lab tests are designed narrowly enough that automakers can exploit them. US regulators don’t uniformly test emissions under real-world conditions (although the EPA conducted a review of diesel vehicles after the VW Group scandal).
A new study published in Nature has now calculated the effect of lax practices in regulation and come up with a body count—38,000 people around the world prematurely died in 2015 as a result of excess particulate matter (including NOx) and ozone emissions from diesel vehicles.
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