"Car surfing" teen injuries highlighted in CDC report

October 17, 2008

In 2006, 4,144 teens ages 16 through 19 died in motor vehicle crashes, and nearly 400,000 were treated in emergency departments for related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, statistics are not so precise regarding a little-known, yet dangerously lethal, teen phenomenon known as "car surfing."

In 2006, 4,144 teens ages 16 through 19 died in motor vehicle crashes, and nearly 400,000 were treated in emergency departments for related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, statistics are not so precise regarding a little-known, yet dangerously lethal, teen phenomenon known as "car surfing."

Ahead of National Teen Driver Safety Week, which begins Sunday, October 19, and ends on Saturday, October 25, the October 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported data on car surfing, a thrill-seeking activity in which one person rides on the exterior of a moving motor vehicle while it is being driven by another person.1 It is the first report to describe car surfing on a national scale, the authors stated.

An analysis of 99 US newspaper reports (58 reports of car-surfing deaths and 41 reports of nonfatal injury from 1990 through August 2008) found that 69% were teens ages 15 to 19. Males accounted for 70% of the injuries.

Among 21 reports that reported the speed of the vehicle at the time of injury, 17 had fatal outcomes. Eleven of the reports reported vehicle speeds less than 30 mph; fatalities occurred at speeds as low as 5 mph. Among eleven cases, alcohol or drugs were mentioned as contributing factors to the injuries; among 58 fatal cases, six involved drugs or alcohol.

A sudden maneuver or movement of the vehicle was reported in 28 cases, which may have contributed to the car-surfing individual falling from the moving vehicle. These sudden movements included turning or swerving the vehicle (16 of 28), braking the vehicle (7 of 28), hitting a bump or dip in the road (3 of 28), and accelerating the vehicle (2 of 28).

The authors suggested that increased awareness of car surfing among parents, educators, law enforcement personnell, and health practitioners might diminish the incidence of this activity among teens, as well as better and more accurate analyses of incidence and fatality rates.

"By delaying full driving privileges so that teens can gain driving experience under low-risk conditions, comprehensive graduated driver licensing systems can reduce fatal and nonfatal injury crashes of drivers aged 16 years by as much as 38% and 40%, respectively," the CDC states on its Web site regarding all teen-related motor vehicle crashes.2 Other ways to reduce deaths and injuries related to teen auto accidents include extending the learner permit period, restricting night-time driving, limiting teen passengers, and raising the minimum drinking age to 21 years, as well as enforcing "zero" blood alcohol levels for teen drivers.

More information about teen driver safety and National Teen Driver Safety Week are available from the CDC here, as well as from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

References
1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injuries resulting from car surfing - United States, 1990-2008. MMWR. 2008:41;1121
2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Teen Driver Safety Week - October 19-25, 2008. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5741a1.htm?s_cid=mm5741a1_e. Accessed October 17, 2008