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No systemic safety issues with VW Golf: coroner

Fix in order: The popular Volkswagen Golf is among those vehicles fitted with recalled DSG transmissions.

Coroner rules out systemic faults with VW Golf model driven by woman killed in crash

15 Nov 2013

A VICTORIAN coroner has found there were no systemic safety issues with the Volkswagen Golf driven by a woman who was killed in a collision with a truck on the Monash Freeway in Melbourne in January 2011.

Handing down her findings today into the death of 32-year-old Melissa Ryan, whose car unexpectedly slowed down prior to the rear-end collision with the truck, coroner Heather Spooner said Ms Ryan was more likely to have been distracted by a mobile phone conversation she was having at the time.

At the request of Ms Ryan’s family, the inquest was extended in July for the coroner to consider a submission containing hundreds of claims from Volkswagen owners describing similar instances of their car suddenly losing power.

Volkswagen Group Australia issued a recall of about 26,000 cars in June for the Golf and other models fitted with a seven-speed DCT automatic transmission, acknowledging that electronic malfunctions could result in the vehicle losing power while being driven.

An unspecified number of vehicles in Australia with the same gearbox are also the subject of a further recall announced overnight, affecting about 1.6 million vehicles worldwide.

However, the 2008 model Golf at the centre of the coronial inquest was fitted with a manual gearbox, and the coroner said this week there was no evidence of any systemic faults with the car Ms Ryan was driving.

The car involved in the crash has been destroyed, making it impossible to conduct further testing.

Ms Spooner said the most probable cause of Ms Ryan’s death was that she was distracted while having a hands-free mobile phone conversation with a friend at the time of the crash.

The coroner said the Victorian government could consider banning drivers from using phones in any capacity, including when used hands-free or on loudspeaker, and recommended VicRoads develop technology that makes it impossible for mobile phones to operate in cars.

Outside the court, Ms Ryan’s family expressed their disappointment with the focus on her use of her mobile phone rather than the complaints about sudden vehicle loss of power made by other Volkswagen drivers.

Ms Ryan’s partner Wayne Belford said the family would like to have seen the coroner investigate more thoroughly the 300 drivers who had come forward “in relation to safety issues they have experienced with their vehicles which did include instances of (rapid) deceleration”.

“We are also disappointed that the coroner has focused more on the use of the mobile phone – we admit that Melissa was on the mobile phone – and less on the reason for the deceleration, or what caused the deceleration of the vehicle,” Mr Belford said.

Ms Ryan’s stepfather, Phil O’Donnell, added that the deceleration issue required further attention.

“We’ve always believed rapid deceleration was a very major factor,” he said.

“Our understanding is the car was accelerating at a reasonable speed, estimated at 95km/h, and within a matter of seconds had a rear impact with a truck at 31km/h. We just can’t understand how that hasn’t been seen further.

“We believe there is a deceleration problem that is at least a legitimate question that we don’t believe has been properly presented and tested by people who have experienced that reality.”

He said the family had hoped for further opportunity to present witnesses and material on sudden deceleration of Volkswagen cars, which would have shown that the issue also related to vehicles with a manual transmission, such as the one being driven by Ms Ryan.

“The inference being that the manual cars, and her car, are not part of that sample, is blatantly inaccurate,” he said.

Volkswagen Group Australia issued a statement today shortly after the corner’s findings were handed down, offering sympathies to the Ryan family.

“Our sincere thoughts and sympathies remain with the Ryan family in what are tragic and very distressing circumstances,” the the company said.

“Volkswagen Group Australia has refrained from making detailed public statements on the coronial inquiry out of respect for the family and the coronial process, and will refrain from further comment.

“We thank the coroner for the thoroughness of the inquiry and the manner in which it was conducted. Volkswagen Group Australia has fully co-operated with authorities and has actively assisted the coroner in her investigations.

“Volkswagen Group Australia acknowledges the coroner’s findings that the vehicle did not contribute to the cause of the accident. Volkswagen Group Australia repeated this position throughout the investigation despite a number of reports which tried to link the tragic accident with a completely unrelated recall matter.

“Volkswagen Group Australia would like to reiterate that there is no correlation between the coronial inquest and the recent reports concerning the current transmission recalls.

“The vehicle at the centre of the coronial Inquest had a manual transmission with no identified issues while the recalls only relate to certain Volkswagen vehicles with DSG transmissions.

“Customer safety and satisfaction are the highest priorities for Volkswagen Group Australia and have been so since Volkswagen began operations here more than 60 years ago.

“Since 1953, Volkswagen has sold more than 800,000 vehicles in Australia and has more than 300,000 vehicles on the road today and is one of the top 10 selling brands in Australia.”

According to official VFACTS registration figures, Volkswagen sales are down 1.2 per cent this year.

The brand suffered an 11.2 per cent fall in sales last month compared to October 2011, and a 9.8 per cent drop in September.

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