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Driving us to distraction

April 22nd, 2006

Dr Petra

It’s Saturday morning, so it must be time for a nonsense survey.

Ah yes, today’s newspapers reveal how relationships are damaged by driving – in fact couples apparently argue more about driving than anything else.

Anything else? Not issues of money, childcare or family difficulties, household chores or other relationship difficulties?

No, a survey (predictably by a motor insurance company) claims our relationships are blighted by car ownership:
1 in 20 men have ended a relationship due to their girlfriend’s driving habits
2/3 UK couples own a car each, but clashes happen when they swap cars
20% men hate it when their partner drives their car and 17% forbid their partner from doing so
13% women have had an accident in their partner’s car and 10% said they wouldn’t own up to a minor scrape.
2/3 women stated they like driving on their own because it means less nagging from a partner, whilst 70% male respondents said the same.
Nearly 1/3 of men and women say car trouble is their main source of arguments.

Hang on a second, didn’t I start by saying cars are the main cause of arguments? Yes I did, as does all the media coverage on this story. But when you read it in full it becomes clear that actually most couples do not argue about their cars – in fact 2/3 of people in the survey didn’t agree cars and driving were the main cause of relationship problems.

That’s clearly not got in the way of the PR Company behind this story going with a shocking headline to guarantee press coverage. And it’s obviously not been checked by any journalists, who’ve not noticed the data doesn’t add up.

As usual the survey sounds very impressive – a study of 4000 people no less. But as you’ll know by now, often survey companies don’t really study that many people; they often use a smaller sample for PR research and just double or triple the results to sound good. And as you’ll also know if you’re familiar with surveys, there’s little point for a PR jaunt to study 4000 people – a far smaller sample would have generated the results you need.

The questions were also leading, only related to cars and driving and biased to direct respondents to say negative things. That’s a necessity if you’ve a predetermined story angle and your eyes on press coverage.

What’s most bizarre about this story (apart from the data not matching the headlines and nobody noticing) is that the whole story’s supposed to promote a motoring company, yet all the findings imply driving is the bane of our lives. If people really were to believe this ‘survey’, then wouldn’t they be persuaded to give up driving?

It seems this is part of the cunning plan of the motoring insurance company, because at the end of telling us the terrible consequences of driving a spokesperson is reported as saying: “If partners are fortunate enough to have a car each, perhaps they should just stick to their own vehicle rather than cause future arguments.”

So the motoring insurance company not only got a free plug, they also managed to tell us that we need to drive two cars – anything to do with wanting us to pay two lots of their car insurance do you think?

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