It was a tragedy that left a young woman dead, and a family and fiancé grieving. It also swept up Volkswagen Australia in a media storm of finger-pointing and blame.
However, the Victorian Coroner Heather Spooner has, in her finding, found no evidence that the cause of the crash that killed 32 year-old Melissa Ryan was related to a malfunction of her car, a manual Volkswagen Golf.
Ms Ryan was hit from behind on the Monash Freeway in January 2011 by a B-double truck, after her Golf apparently decelerated suddenly.
The truck driver said that he had not seen Ms Ryan's brake lights come on.
The latter point became the contentious issue. It was followed with hundreds of complaints by Volkswagen drivers and owners reporting deceleration issues, mostly related to DSG transmissions in certain of its models and model years.
Complicating matters however, and, according to the Coroner a likely contributing factor to the crash, was that Ms Ryan was on her mobile phone at the time, on speaker or hands-free with it placed in her lap or the car’s console.
Volkswagen Group Australia, and the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport, found no evidence of systemic faults related to the model of car Ms Ryan was driving.
Further, the Coroner reported, “multiple investigations” of the car’s computer and log failed to show any malfunction of Ms Ryans’s car.
It is also contentious whether Ms Ryan slowed suddenly or simply had, as Detective Sergeant Peter Bellion of the major collision investigation unit told the inquest, a “delayed reaction” to traffic around and ahead of her moving off.
"The most probable scenario there has been the sort of delayed response to the traffic moving off," the Coroner read to the court.
The Coroner recommended that VicRoads consider a complete ban on the use of mobile phones while driving.
Ms Ryans family and fiancé Wayne Belford are understandably disappointed with the Victorian Coroner’s finding.
In a statement issued a short while ago, Volkswagen Group Australia acknowledged the Coroner’s findings that the vehicle did not contribute to the cause of the accident.
“Our sincere thoughts and sympathies remain with the Ryan family in what are tragic and very distressing circumstances,” the statement reads.
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