Campaigners are calling for a winter ban on diesel vehicles if their emissions control systems turn off in cold weather.
The German environmental group Deutsche Umweltilfe (DUH) made the call after conducting tests on diesel vehicles which showed the emissions of some models were far above legal limits in temperatures below 10ºC.
The tests have not been independently verified and manufacturers dispute the claims, but DUH said it would take its findings to German prosecutors.
Jürgen Resch, managing director of DUH, accused German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt of conspiring in the early deaths of the population by not taking action to ban vehicles if they provided no emissions control in cold weather.
He said emissions from some cars did not even meet Euro 1 limits, even though they were officially approved as Euro 6.
Resch added: ‘Cities with environmental zones should introduce driving bans on these vehicles if the temperature is below 10ºC.’
His colleague and transport expert Axel Friedrich said: ‘It is unbelievable that carmakers are still selling cars to their customers in 2016 that do not even meet the limits of Euro 1 on the road. These vehicles have no place on our roads.’
DUH is involved in a number of legal challenges against German authorities, including a bid to reverse the type approval of the Opel Insignia, effectively banning it from sale in Europe, because of emissions claims.
It has also taken a number of cities to court because they have air pollution that exceeds legal limits.
The call for a ban comes as new research from the European Environment Agency estimates that more than 500,000 deaths a year across the EU can be attributed to air pollution, with emissions from road traffic, particularly diesels, responsible for the biggest proportion.
Its 2016 Air Quality in Europe report says real-world emissions are much higher than official tests suggest, saying: ‘Average real-world emissions can be more than four times or higher than those measured in the laboratory under test conditions.’
However, the report recognises that Euro 6 emissions standards on diesels are helping to combat high pollution levels.
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