Good Question: Safer In Winter: Cars Or SUVs?

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, 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.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • sartenada

    I do not give the right answer to Your question, but I tell about we are doing during winter here in Finland. We have training courses to drive on “skull weather”. I participated in this kind of course organized by our Automobile and Touring Club of Finland.

    Here is what I wrote to one of my comment on my blog:

    “We had on Sunday sunny day. I was training nearly all the day “icy road driving tests at extreme conditions” at the airport of Hyvinkää.

    It was fantastic to learn how to drive my car at extreme conditions on the ice. Yes on ice at frozen airport! Everyone should learn it. I tell one example from this training. We had to drive as fast we could to manage our car by slaloming between rubber cones and braking was not allowed. At first attempt, I cleared it at the speed of 50km/h or 31 mi. No cones were allowed to touch. Slowly I could increase speed to pass this test brilliantly. Finally I passed the test at the speed of 70 km/h or 43 mi after many attempts. When I tested at the speed of 80 km/h or 49 mi, I knocked over two cones and my car began to spin around like a pinwheel. To managing my car with the increase of 20 kilometers or 12 miles more, was a “victory” to me, because my additional driving education is not wasted. There were of course different types training, but this is one good and simple example. To manage one’s car on ice is not so easy. Test it yourself, if You do not believe, but not on a road.

    The strangest thing is that the majority of participants were Ladies. It seems that Finnish men are thinking in their mind: “I am the best; I do not need nothing extra training”. Maybe this kind of thinking is a universal among men, I do not know? Okay, I felt that I need although I have been driving in about 1200000 kilometers or 745645 mi since 1972. When driving on snow and ice in Finland this kind of extra training is useful in case if something happens. So, the loss of control of car while driving would be disastrous in some situations.

    My sunny Sunday on the icy “track” was awesome.”

    So what about additional training, because 4×4 is not always best solution to safe driving? We are not all rally drivers like Henri Toivonen, Ari Vatanen, Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen, Markku Alén, Marcus Grönholm or Hannu Mikkola, Mikko Hirvonen, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Petter Solberg or Sébastien Loeb.
    Here, the emphasis on driving school is predictive behavior and not to drive too fast when road conditions require it in traffic and doing so is much.

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  • Tanker

    For slow people while on the phone, get off the phone and keep up your speed or get off the road for good

  • Scott

    I am confused 18 % in the winter our SUV…so does that mean 82% are cars boy that doesnt look so bad then if only 18 % are SUV…can some one explain that to me I guess I would have to know how many SUV are drivin in MN to find out if this is true…

    • Chris

      Jason De, I believe that Scott has a point that I can’t get past either…
      How many SUVs vs cars vs trucks are on the road?
      Then we can tell if they are more dangerous overall…
      and then add the winter months vs the rest as a bonus…
      Otherwise, you are not (cannot) answer the question!

    • Kent

      I agree. I had the same question.They do this with stats all the time. Try to use them to make their point and hope that no one says “hey wait a min.” Case in point they always come out saying that 23% of all fatal accidents involve alcohol. Isn’t the bigger problem the 77% of the people in these accidents can’t drive. I am not in favor of drinking and driving but people tend to go after what is politically correct and shy away from the tougher issues like telling grandma to hang up the keys.

  • Mike

    Suv’s are expensive and people who drive them do not use them to their advantage. Instead, they drive as if they don’t want to do any harm to their overly expensive convinence and slow the flow of traffic. Get out of the way and use the right lanes when traveling instead of ‘parking’ yourself in the left lane, so you can talk on your cell phone oblivious to the guy behind you who is trying to get around your inconciderate ***.

    • Chuck

      Mike, What are you talking about here!
      Your assumption that SUVs drive slower does not make sense at all…
      Thanks again for the confusion and I am sure the story did not help your lack of understanding…

  • msche

    How is this an answer to the question? First of all, more people drive SUVs in the winter so there are more of them on the freeways (I drive an SUV to work in the winter, a car in the summer). You didn’t address how many cars go flying by and then end up in the ditch further down the road. How about how many SUVs go flying by you and don’t end up in the ditch? Also, what is the percentage of SUVs on the road in the winter vs. cars? I would say that cars are the problem. If they are causing 82% of the accidents, that is what you should have focused on. My guess is that cars make up a lot less than 82% of the vehicles on the road and yet they account for almost all of the accidents. Could that be that the drivers are all on their phones? Next time, actually answer the question or don’t ask it.

  • WT?

    St Cloud State University has a driving school at an old airport and it is like the one described above. I have no idea how much it costs, as my employer paid for my class. But, it was awesome and worth it! I learned a lot!! All newly licensed drivers should have to do a class like this. And they would love it, it’s fun!!!!!!!

  • Mel

    What’s the point of asking this question? The biggest variable in whether or not any vehicle is safe is the DRIVER.

  • SB

    The same stereotypes for SUV drivers are true for all drivers. People in cars, trucks, minvans a like. There are people speeding, tailgaiting, talking/texting on the phone while driving o matter the size of thier vechile. Too bad this article was written to encourge bandwagoning and wasn’t well researched. As a new SUV owner I was actually looking to learn something.

  • Shawna

    “Physics are at play.” Do you realize how much more is involved in the “Physics” of an SUV, other than simply the weight or location of it’s center of mass? Let’s actually do some research and report how this compares to the number of SUVs driven at specific times of year and how THAT relates to the number of accidents, or how well the SUVs protect people involved in these accidents…..wasn’t that what the question was implying in the title of this article??? How does any vehicle react or protect the passengers when the vehicle hits a frictionless surface?

  • Kristen

    I believe that people in SUV’s think that with 4-wheel drive they are safer.
    Doesn’t matter how many wheels you have you can’t stop fast on Ice..

    Not to mention…Get off the phone

  • joe

    Don’t see motorcycles in ditches in the winter. They must be the safest ones out there. There is no hard facts to this study. Kind of like the global warming oh wait I mean climate change.

    • John

      Great reply by Joe (Feb 3) and msche (Feb 1).
      When it is snowing, my wife takes the SUV to work (80 miles) and I take her car to work (10 miles). I wonder how many people that have cars vs. suv’s decide to just stay home, or end up taking mass transit? Almost an unanswerable question – somethnig a lawyer would have a field day with.

  • Ross Warren

    The question was “Are suv’s safer than cars in the winter?” your answer missed the point entirely by giving statistics about the percentages of them that crash but not the condition of the ocupants of the vehicles after they crash. Also suv’s are more likely to crash in the winter simply because their are more of them on the road. (I drive a motorcycle in the summer and an suv in the winter but when it did end up wrong-side-up in a ditch, I walked away unscathed.)

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