Late in 2000, carried news on a German proposal for all two-seat child-trailers to be fitted with brakes. In March 2001, the German government looked close to nodding through the proposal, which would have meant child-trailers throughout the EC having to fit expensive brakes. The patent on these brakes was held by the engineer recommending child-trailers should have them fitted! Trailer manufacturers worldwide teamed up to fight Dr. Wobbin's brake. And last week, they won, preventing a US vs Europe trade spat

Child-trailer brake is stopped in its tracks; trade war with US is averted

Last year, Val Hoyle, international sales manager of Burley Design of America, said: "We’re all competitors but we’re working together on this one. It would be devastating for the trailer industry and for family cycling."

The proposed German law would have required that all two-child trailers be fitted with an independent braking system. This is something that would hike prices but would offer questionable safety benefits, claimed Hoyle.

Trailer companies such as Burley, Chariot from Canada, Bruggli (Leggero) from Switzerland, and Ritchie Weber of Germany worked together to lobby the German ministry of transport advisory committee which had recommended the trailer brake proposal should become law.

The proposal’s highly-placed and politically well-connected supporter was Dr. Wobbin from German safety organisation TÜV-Essen. He was also a member of the Ministry of Transport advisory committee. He just so happens to have a hydraulic, self-actuated trailer brake patent that is the only one the transport committee had approved to comply with the law.

Should the law have been passed, the US and Canada may have lodged trade infringment complaints because fitting the brake – in Europe only – would have added about £92 (150 Euros) to the cost of every trailer, limiting the ability of trailer manufacturers to do business in Europe.

However, the German government backed down after a meeting in Bonn last week.

Representatives from Burley and Chariot attended the meeting along with official representatives from the trade departments of Germany, Canada and America.

After the successful outcome to the meeting, Hoyle said:

"We were extremely grateful that the German government pulled the proposed legislation off the current bicycle safety law draft and agreed to meet with us. We have spent the last year working with our government and a coalition of people in the bike industry. The reason that we were successful was that we were able to work together with our dealers, European distributitors and competitors for a common goal of getting this proposal abolished.

“We explained to the ministry officials and the TUV engineers (Dr Wobbin was conspicuously absent) that we have hundreds of thousands of trailers on the road and have never had an accident when our product was used as directed. In 20 years no one has ever reported a serious injury to a child using one of our trailers."

Nigel Wiggett of UK Trailer Co., distributor of Burley trailers for 11 years, said: “Fitting a braking system would by definition have to be sophisticated and in my opinion add unnecessary cost and maintenance without giving any added safety benefits.”

Hoyle agrees: “We explained to the German delegation that the problem they were concerned about – stopping a trailer when going downhill – didn’t exist and also pointed out that there was no actual brake in production, just a patent on a prototype brake.

"Basically this was a theoretical problem that was to be solved with a theoretical brake and a rather expensive one at that. The real issue here is that the advisory board did not consult with or consider the opinion of bicycle dealers and those of us in the industry with experience. Safety is the main focus of what we do and we were very concerned that we would have to comply EC-wide, allowing an untested, very expensive brake to be put on our trailers.

"Europe accounts for 25 percent of our sales and we would effectively be priced out of the market.”

The German transportation ministry agreed that the next time they put forward legislation on cycling and cycling trailers that they would consult with local distributors and manufacturers of the products in question. They also agreed that if they were to put forward a safety standard dealing with a trailer brake that it would be an international standard that all cycling communities could agree to.

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