U.S. automakers jumped to the defense of sport utility vehicles Jan. 16, a day after the nation's top regulator questioned the safety of the popular trucks, according to reports in the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. SUVs, they argued, are among the safest vehicles on the road. During a speech Jan. 14 at the Automotive News World Congress in Dearborn, Mich., Dr. Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said that some sport utility vehicles are unsafe because of their tendency to roll over and that consumers should use caution when purchasing those vehicles. Automakers, however, lashed out at Runge's remarks, stating that NHTSA's own statistics show that SUVs are just as safe, if not safer, than passenger cars, and that the vast number of fatalities involving sport utilities could be avoided if drivers used their safety belts. U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, also criticized Runge's comments. "I appreciate Dr. Runge's efforts to improve driving safety," Dingell said. "But his reported focus on sport utility rollovers obscures the fact that SUVs are very safe vehicles overall, performing well in front and side impact (crashes), which account for 97 percent of accidents."