Letters: The proposed 'road train'

The pitfalls and perils of the road-train proposal

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As an engineer, I am fascinated by the technology of the proposed "road train", (report, 4 January) which I believe will safely drive a train of vehicles close together behind a leader, but do wonder how this could work in practice.

Is it intended that some lorries will be licensed to drive at 70mph to lead road trains, or is it believed that hundreds of motorists will be happy to travel at less than 60mph for a more relaxed journey?

Traffic moves at the speed of the slowest vehicle in front. Will the train be allowed to travel only in the inside lane or will it be allowed to overtake? The driver is responsible for his vehicle and the eight cars behind it, so will he be able to find a gap big enough to safely move the whole train out into the second lane?

What happens when, in the last 200m before an exit, a motorist from the outside lane screams across all three lanes, expecting to force a gap in the middle of the train so he can leave the motorway, as people do? None of the car drivers in the train will be paying any attention to the traffic, nor be in control to suddenly take over. And I am deeply concerned about the implications of a driver working on his laptop, who suddenly looks up and realises he is 200m before the point where he intended to leave the motorway, and must suddenly switch from his work to being fully in charge of his vehicle.

And is it a serious suggestion that people would work on their laptop on the passenger seat, sitting in the twisted position shown in your photograph, for a couple of hours or so? The back and joint injuries would be horrendous.

Phil Wood

Bolton, Greater Manchester

Bad weather brings out good people

The snow and ice has brought out the best in people. Among the travel chaos, closed schools and dangerous conditions you have covered ("Road users grit their teeth as salt supplies dwindle", 8 January) there have been countless stories of people helping each other out of difficulties and making the best of the situation.

At the WRVS, our charity's staff and volunteers have battled the elements to get meals and provisions to older people at home, make sure the people we help are safe and warm and provide emergency support when needed. What's been even more impressive is the support we have had in communities across the country: everything from loans of 4x4 vehicles to helping with supplies.

I want to say a big thank you to every one who has kept WRVS services working for older people across Britain. Whatever the lessons we can all learn about preparing for severe winters in future, we know from this experience that in such times of adversity, communities show real strength, coming together to cope and to support each other, whatever the situation.

Lynne Berry

Chief Executive, WRVS, Cardiff

Andrew Elliott (letters, 8 Jan) has put his finger on one of the main reasons why schools are reluctant to open in severe weather, but perhaps it should be spelt out more clearly: if a school decides to close, it will not affect the official attendance record, but if it opens and only half the pupils attend, this will be counted as poor attendance and affect the overall data made available to parents.

The solution is for the LEAs to discount, for attendance purposes, any day on which any school in the area closes because of bad weather. Until that happens, some head teachers will continue to take the easy option of closing the school on any day when pupil attendance is likely to be significantly affected by the weather. Those who take the decision on more thoughtful grounds will find themselves penalised for remaining open.

Marjorie Clarke

Totnes, Devon

With so many schools closed, and the severe weather unlikely to ease up soon, many students are faced with the threat of being unable to do their exams this exam season and having to take them in the May/June exam season, because papers would have been released for those who were able to do them.

This would be extremely unfair on those who don't get to take their exams, because they would have a huge volume to complete in May/June. And current Year 13s would be unable to retake any of those exams before universities accept them based on their results, but if they could take them in February then they could be retaken in June, which would be much fairer (as those who did take them this season would be able to do that).

If there is no action, this could have dramatic and harsh consequences on some applying for university. Ofqual should tell all exam boards to postpone the January exams by two weeks, giving time for this weather to clear.

Jonathan Dower

Dalwood, Devon

So the Tories think that eight days' gas reserve is not enough. If they hadn't privatised the gas industry they would, no doubt, be criticising the Gas Board for holding too much stock. Another of those U-turns Mrs T abhorred?

Ian Barge

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

In weather reports, the snow is now measured in centimetres instead of the old feet and inches. I am getting tired doing the conversion for my Mum.

Stan Matthias

London SE1

Sorting out Irish history

Robert Fisk ("Walls never work in the Middle East or in Ireland", Comment, 2 January) confuses owners of estates and occupiers of holdings. "Crom-welliam veterans" did not settle and work the land awarded them: they were army officers who in many cases sold on without visiting Ireland and who certainly never handled a spade or plough.

Equally, the Catholic proprietors deprived of their estates in the east of Ireland and compensated with estates west of the Shannon were not the "original inhabitants": they were the dominant elite. Fisk's claim that "as many as 100,000 fled to the Continent, mostly to Spanish Habsburg territories" is fantastic. Catholic clerics moved to the Continent, increasingly to France; Cath-olics of the officer class and those beholden to them did likewise. But the peasants who worked the land had neither means nor motive to emigrate.

If there is any analogy between Spanish Muslims in 1609 and Palestinian Muslims now, it was the Spanish Christians who thought of themselves as the ancient inhabitants reduced to helotry by Islamic invaders from across the sea and who, ultimately succeeded in sending them back.

C J Woods

Celbridge, Co Kildare, Ireland

We'll drink to healthy sport

We read with interest Dr Andrew M Hill's letter suggesting that the sponsorship of the UK's major sports leagues by drinks manufacturers creates a false association between alcohol and fitness and health (7 January).

We share Dr Hill's concerns about the misuse of alcohol and the associated impact on society. However, we do not believe that the solution lies in sweeping measures such as banning the sponsorship of sport by drinks businesses, but rather in improving education and cultural awareness of drinking responsibly.

We do not seek to link alcohol with sporting success and we do not in any way suggest that alcohol is, or could be, related to player-performance.

Our association with the Guinness Premiership enables us to reach a wider audience with our alcohol education initiatives. For example, we have just delivered a programme to every player and coach in the Guinness Premiership, in partnership with Premier Rugby, to inform participants about alcohol and its effects on the body and behaviour, making them more aware of the choices they make when drinking. We also encourage fans to drink responsibly and recently held a responsible-drinking weekend at every Guinness Premiership match, using activities to highlight the importance of eating and drinking soft drinks between alcoholic drinks, and to show how alcohol can affect co-ordination.

Sponsorship provides vital funding for sport which can be channelled into grassroots activity, making sport more accessible to more people.

Lee Bailey

Guinness Sponsorship Manager

Diageo, London NW10

Muslims had point in Wootton parade

The recent attempt by a group of Muslims to parade empty coffins in Wootton Basset to represent civilian deaths in Afghanistan aroused a reaction of such fury and outrageous hypocrisy that I began to wonder if the British had become such moral cowards that they are incapable of facing the uglier consequences of warfare. One ugly truth is that civilians are the principal victims, what the Americans call "collateral damage".

For daring to represent collaterally damaged Afghan civilians, these Muslims are accused of being extremists, but the point they were trying to make was perfectly reasonable.

G L Samson

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

I applaud the call from the Muslim Council of Britain to dissociate Muslims from the proposed march by Islam4UK in Wootton Bassett and to ban it. They rightly point out that millions of Muslims have fought and died in defence of the nation.

There is no better testament to the contribution of brave men from many faiths and countries than that in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Cassino in Italy, where a considerable number of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lie side by side with their Christian and Jewish comrades. Lest we forget.

Paul Jenkins

Newton Abbot, Devon

Yes, there was a golden age here

Joan Smith claims (Comment, 7 January) that in opposing, for example, Islamic settlement in England, Lord Carey and others yearn for a country which "never really existed" (outside public schools etc). This is becoming a familiar leftist mantra.

Not only is "nostalgia" for a non-existent nation a contradiction in terms, but patriots of all classes, including non-Christians such as myself, clearly remember life in this country before the mid-1960s. Its reality is reflected not in "early novels of Agatha Christie" so much as in an immeasurable library of non-fiction books, periodicals and films, as well as personal letters, diaries and photographs treasured by families of diverse occupations and regions, that cannot all be dispatched down some Orwellian memory-hole.

Perhaps paradoxically, it was precisely the character of England that attracted some aspiring early immigrants. Isn't the call to keep our borders open to multi-ethnic mass-immigration, and for our native population to reduce its birth-rate further, essentially genocidal? Does Ms Smith wish to dig a grave for the English?

David Ashton

Sheringham, Norfolk

Flak hits Ryanair

Alex Palmer (letters, 6 January) seems to be unaware that many of us think honesty and transparency are more important than making profit, so we believe Ryan-air's methods are disreputable, whatever the final cost of the ticket. We would prefer large and profitable companies to treat their customers with some respect and courtesy.

Dennis Leachman

Reading, Berkshire

Silent tribute

Another of the joys of shopping in John Lewis not mentioned in Carola Long's paean of praise for them (6 January) is the blissful lack of piped music. And the spacious, uncluttered layout of goods and the airiness of the stores is in marked contrast to the once-classy House of Fraser, which bombards customers with loud pop music. Given the pleasant John Lewis staff and good customer service, it's no surprise it is doing so well in cash-strapped times.

Marie Paterson

Nuneaton, Warwickshire

It's crystal clear

It is a pity that Rob Sharp's useful field guide (Life, 7 January) perpetuates the widespread false equating of snowflakes with snow crystals. They are not the same. Next time it snows, collect a flake on your sleeve and see that it consists of a loose jumble of many crystals. These crystals have the eight basic forms, but flakes, as everyone knows, can vary from "the wrong kind" to "goose feathers".

David Pedgley

Crowmarsh, Oxfordshire

Arms and the law

I was appalled to read that Lady Scotland, speaking for our government, should be "urgently" seeking a way of protecting those accused of war crimes from arrest if they visit this country ("Israeli army officers fear arrest in UK", 6 January). How dare our leaders seek to set Britain beyond the jurisdiction of international law? And are some of them, fearing charges of complicity in war crimes, trying to protect themselves?

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset

So eternity's ended?

How did Anton Chekhov, "greatest dramatist of the 19th and early 20th centuries" (article, Arts and Books, 8 January), rise to "Greatest dramatist of all time", on the section cover? Runaway inflation?

Tom Aitken

Richmond, Surrey

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