50 years later surfing is a term also associated with browsing the web and more recently with the increasingly popular teen past-time of clinging to the exterior of a speeding car.
The “sport” of car surfing is alarming health experts. National statistics have shown a steady rise in car surfing fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1990, at least 99 people have died or sustained serious injuries as a result of car surfing.
“Broken bones and road rash – severe skin abrasions caused by impact from a fall – are minor injuries from car-surfing,” said Thomas Esposito, MD, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns in the Department of Surgery at Loyola University Medical Center. “Head injuries are very prevalent and the effects are devastating.” Young people believe they are invincible but several seconds of thoughtless, risky behavior can lead to a lifetime of permanent disability or even death.”
The national rise in car surfing fatalities corresponds with the introduction of media depictions of the activity in movies, video games and in social media “For those desiring their five minutes of fame, social media such as YouTube and Facebook offer perceived fame and instant gratification,” said Esposito. “Replicating a dangerous stunt and capturing it with a cellphone may seem like a cool idea but can have serious long-term consequences.”
According to the CDC, males are more likely to car surf than females and the average age of persons injured as a result of car surfing is 17.6 years. A larger than average proportion of injuries occur among teen males ages 15 to 19. Injuries have been reported in 31 states, with 39% of these coming from the Midwest and 35% from the South.
Esposito notes that one of the key risks is sudden, unanticipated car maneuvers such as accelerating, swerving or braking, that can force a car surfer off of the vehicle. “People who fall off a moving vehicle may suffer brain contusions, broken bones, fractured skulls, loss of consciousness, internal bleeding, paralysis and death.”
Parents take note! If your teenage son asks to borrow the car to go surfing, just check he’s got his board and is headed off to the beach. Car surfing is a dangerous game with stakes that are too high if they lose.