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Good Question: Safer In Winter: Cars Or SUVs?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A lot of us have been there: Driving in a snowstorm, when a giant SUV goes screaming by on the road. Then a couple miles later, it ends up in a ditch. So, during winter driving conditions, which is more likely to end up in the ditch: an SUV or a car? Which is safer?

“Anything with four-wheel drive certainly is gonna enable you to get around easier,” said Minnesota State Patrol Lieutenant Eric Roeske. “But the flip side is you certainly can’t slow down any faster. And often times we see the people that go into the ditch are the people that are driving too fast.”

At WCCO-TV’s request, the Department of Public Safety analyzed three years of crash data, comparing SUVs to all other vehicles (vans, trucks, cars, etc.).

During the non-winter months, SUVs make up about 16% of all crashes. But consistently, when winter arrives, that percentage moves up to 18%.

That 2 percent matters when you’re talking about a total of 50-60,000 winter crashes.

“I think it’s certainly interesting,” said Roeske. “Maybe the attitude of a driver, the ability of a driver to drive faster gets them in more trouble.”

At Jason’s Blog on wcco.com, Jenny wrote: :I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen an SUV go flying by me on a snowy day and a mile later: the same vehicle’s in the ditch.”

John countered: “I’m one of the idiots. I’ve never crashed [my SUV] or even had a close call. Move over slow people.”

Physics are at play. SUVs are heavier than cars, so they take longer to stop. They are also top heavy.

“You go sliding off the road sideways with a top heavy vehicle it can have a tendency to overturn easier than a passenger car,” said Roeske.

In 2010, there were 79,706 crashes in non-winter months. SUVs made up 12,715 of those, or 16 percent.

In the winter there were 56,998 Minnesota vehicle crashes. SUVs accounted for 10,339 of them, or 18 percent.

Roeske says it really comes down to the driver, the driver’s attitude and their speed. Winter tires make a difference, too.

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