Vic Police investigating wild Explorer

words - Ken Gratton
Melbourne driver reports cruise control issue with Ford SUV

Ford Australia has offered the Victoria police "technical assistance" in the evaluation of an Explorer allegedly involved in a juggernaut ride through Melbourne's outer suburbs.

Major media outlets, The Age, the Herald-Sun and 3AW, jumped on the story yesterday of a runaway Ford Explorer involved in a situation like the scene from the film Capricorn One, in which Elliott Gould loses control of his car.

According to reports, 22-year-old driver, Chase Weir, was unable to cancel the cruise control of his 2002 Ford Explorer as he approached the Burke Road turn-off on Melbourne's Eastern Freeway at around 12:40pm yesterday.

Choosing to stay on the freeway, Weir allegedly continued via the Eastlink tollway towards Frankston. Police were called and provided a lights-and-sirens escort as he attempted to bring the vehicle under control. He succeeded in bringing the car to a halt outside the Monash University Peninsula campus about half an hour after he first became aware there was a problem.

Ford is yet to lay hands on the vehicle to assess where the problem lies, although the company is lined up to check out the vehicle, after the Victoria Police have had their turn.

"Basically, at this stage, the situation is highly unusual," said Sinead McAlary, Ford's Communications Manager when the Carsales Network spoke to her about the incident this morning.

"We have not yet had access to the vehicle to investigate it ourselves. There is any number of fail-safe systems in a vehicle and, according to the reports of what happened yesterday, every single one of those must have failed at the same time -- which would be unusual in the extreme.

"We've never had a report of this happening before. We've spoken to our colleagues in the US overnight and they've never had a similar report.

"The vehicle eventually stopped when Mr Weir applied the brakes firmly and, obviously, in his own language, he 'slammed on the brakes'. Any vehicle, whether it's a Ford or any other type of vehicle, will stop if the brakes are applied. There's no car that the engine is so powerful that the brakes won't override it, if they're applied properly.

"What we need to determine is obviously what happened earlier throughout the incident, that that didn't happen... whether the brakes were applied correctly or incorrectly -- or whether something went wrong with the vehicle.

"We've spoken to Mr Weir this morning; we are providing him with a loan car so he's not inconvenienced; we've spoken with Victoria Police. They are conducting an investigation into the events of yesterday. We have offered them technical assistance, if they would like it or need it, as they are looking at the vehicle. They will get back to us if they want that assistance.

"Once they have completed their investigation -- and we don't know when that will be -- Mr Weir has authorised them to give us the vehicle so that we can look at it ourselves, but we think it will be some time before we actually get access to the vehicle so that we can have a look at it."

McAlary responded in the affirmative when asked whether Ford would recall the Explorer -- the vehicle in question is seven years old -- if it were proved that the situation had arisen from a technical issue.

"Ford takes the reputation and the safety of our vehicles very seriously. We don't know yet what has caused it, but we have a long history of responding to situations, regardless of how old the vehicle is."

In the meantime, Weir has the use of Ford's loan car for as long as he is without the Explorer. McAlary was unable to say how long the Explorer would be out of action.

"We'll know more once we hear from the Police about how long it's going to be, but we've provided him with a loan car and will continue to do so."

For reasons of safety, McAlary reiterated that the best way to overcome cruise control, in the event of a malfunction of that system, is merely to apply full pressure to the brake pedal. Turning off the engine could leave the driver without power assistance for steering and brakes.

"We would recommend that applying the brakes firmly -- once -- and bringing the car to a stop is the thing to do," she said.

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Published : Wednesday, 16 December 2009
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