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Driven round the bend

Afinancial journalist can always tell when it is summer. It isn’t just that newspaper pagination falls off the face of a cliff or that everyone goes on holiday and any query takes twice as long to get a reply from a somnolent press office.

It is also the way that any real snippet of news is followed by a huge trail of press releases from PRs hoping to get their organisation a quick mention.

The recent bank base rate, for example, garnered literally dozens of vacuous reactions from all and sundry – some of it days after the announcement and, therefore, doubly useless.

Yet some experts’ views are interesting and insightful. For example, I always look out for Ray Boulger’s comments on mortgages, as well as those from the Council of Mortgage Lenders. And it is always important to know when, say, the Halifax is planning to cut rates.

But many other releases are inane rubbish. My particular bugbear is so-called surveys. You know the ones I mean – 88 per cent of drivers with only one leg prefer an automatic to a manually operated car or 73 per cent of blind motorists are more likely to crash at high speed.

Actually, although you might not believe me, I made those two up. However, I do find myself wondering who dreams up these asinine surveys and who on earth do polling organisations talk to?

Last week was a case in point. I learned, if that is the right word, that almost half of women in the UK admit to needing an extra bag to carry their excess shopping home from holidays overseas. This comes courtesy of Barclays General Insurance.

Meanwhile, according to Mint, two-thirds of us are either already holidaying alone or likely to at some point in the future, as more people hit their 30s either divorced or still single.

On the same day, a new online driving simulator created by Marks & Spencer Money found that that 70 per cent of speeding offences occur in areas with a 30mph limit. Astonishingly, the worst offenders in this group are men between 25 and 34. I never would have guessed.

According to Alliance & Leicester, only 21 per cent of us save regularly and 52 per cent per cent say they could afford no more than 500 if an emergency arose. Which is bad news for students hoping their mummies and daddies will bail them out while at college, as graduates now expect to leave university with 12,640 of debt, an increase of 460 on 2004, a NatWest survey tells me.

Nor will things get better on the savings front. A Winterthur Life poll of “top-end” IFAs found that two-thirds think the Government will have little impact in closing the savings gap while 15 per cent say it will have no impact. I would be amazed if IFAs believe anything else.

I confess that sometimes, when I am bored, I enjoy stitching different surveys together to see what the whole looks like. A bit like Frankenstein, as it happens.

For example, Britain’s motorists are a bunch of ignorant speed merchants who drive their convertibles in flip-flops, cheat speed cameras by swapping penalty points with their partners and learned their bad driving habits from their mums.

Direct Line has found that 94 per cent of motorists admit to speeding, with a third of drivers under 29 admitting to doing so regularly. The same proportion claim to have a sound knowledge of speed limits but half those polled were unable to identify the limit on a dual carriageway correctly.

Not to worry. Even if Gatsos snap your number plate, you will probably escape a ban. A separate report by Churchill Car Insurance reveals that a whopping 10 million drivers would sneakily swap penalty points with their nearest and dearest. Indeed, the notion of trading penalty points has become so common that that 13 per cent of respondents did not know it is illegal or were unsure of the law.

Worse still, these cheating speeders are probably driving in flip-flops. Another survey, this time by Norwich Union, has found that 25 per cent of people wear them regularly when driving. As NU points out, ever so helpfully: “The sole can get caught under a pedal during a simple gear change, when applying the brake or even when moving the foot from clutch to brake or vice versa. The absence of ankle support can lead to the foot slipping off the pedal altogether.”

Where could everyone have learned their terrible driving habits? From their mums, of course, as shown in research by First Alternative, the insurance broking firm.

Occasionally, when I find myself talking to PR people, they ask why it is that journalists treat their industry with contempt. I do not know, I reply. Maybe it is because, according to one survey last week, 99.9 per cent of what comes out of their mouths is pure, unadulterated rubbish.

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