A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doctor has become the latest person to join the growing group of SUV bashers in the United States. The doctor said he wouldn’t ride in some SUVs even "if they were the last vehicles on earth”.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doctor has become the latest person to join the growing group of SUV bashers in the United States. The doctor said he wouldn’t ride in some SUVs even "if they were the last vehicles on earth”.

Dr Jeffrey Runge, an emergency room physician who is serving as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, spoke about the danger of SUVs at the Automotive News World Congress.

reports that Runge said many believe SUVs are safer than ordinary passenger cars, but this is not true. "There are about 10 000 fatalities in all rollover crashes (in the US) each year. Rollover crashes represent three per cent of all collisions yet account for 32 per cent of occupant fatalities," Runge said. "Moreover, fatalities in single-vehicle rollovers increased 22,3 per cent and they now account for 8 400 fatalities. The rollover occupant fatality rate per registered 100 000 registered SUVs is about three times higher than it is for passenger cars” he said.

Runge said that it was especially dangerous for new drivers, in particular teenagers, to drive SUVs because of awkward handling characteristics. "I would not put an inexperienced driver in a high-centre-of-gravity vehicle (such as an SUV or pickup truck)," he said. Runge added that he wouldn't ride in some SUVs even "if they were the last vehicles on earth".

But the manufacturers were quick to hit back. General Motors said that the facts presented by the doctor were not true. "According to real-world government crash data, compiled by the NHTSA, SUVs are two to three times more protective of their occupants in frontal, rear and side-impact crashes, which make up 97,5 percent of all crashes. The major reason for fatalities in rollovers, which represent only 2,5 per cent of all crashes, is due to a lack of seat belt use," said Jay Cooney, a GM spokesman.

"Since Americans began buying SUVs in record numbers in the 1980s, sales of these versatile vehicles skyrocketed more than 600 per cent. During this sales boom, the nation's fatality rate (based on vehicle miles of travel) on America's roads dropped by more than 50 per cent," he said.

When asked for comment by , Wolfgang Bernhard, chief operating officer of DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group, said: "He (Runge) must have been talking about somebody else's SUVs".

CARtoday.com reported last week that the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for a fire at a Ford, Lincoln, Mercury dealership in Pennsylvania that destroyed several SUVs on New Year’s day. The group said the fire was its first move of the year to stop the sale of environmentally-unfriendly vehicles. A large number of SUVs were also sprayed with an acid-like chemical in Richmond, Virgina, during the past few months.