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Car Surfing and its Consequences: CDC's Findings on a Dangerous Thrill–Seeking Activity

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injuries Resulting from Car Surfing --- United States, 1990–2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008; 57(41):1121–1124.

According to an article published in the October 17, 2008, issue of MMWR, since 1990 at least 99 people died or sustained serious injuries as a result of car surfing, an activity that involves riding on the exterior of a moving vehicle. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention obtained information about car surfing injuries and deaths by reviewing newspaper reports from 1990 through 2008. Their findings answer common questions about this dangerous phenomenon, which appears to be most popular among young people, especially teenage males.

What is car surfing?

Car surfing is a dangerous thrill–seeking activity that involves a person riding on the exterior of a moving vehicle, such as on the roof or the hood, while someone else is driving.

Who is most at risk for car surfing related injuries?

CDC researchers discovered the following facts about car surfing:

  • Males are more likely to car surf than females.
  • The average age of persons injured as a result of car surfing is 17.6 years old, and a larger than average proportion of injuries occur among teen males ages 15 to 19. However, injuries have been reported among persons ages 10 to 37–showing that car surfing is not an activity in which only teenagers participate.
  • Injuries have been reported in 31 states, although a regional pattern was detected with 39% from the Midwest and 35% from the South.

How fast does a vehicle have to be travelling in order for someone to be injured or killed while car surfing?

Car surfing is dangerous at nearly any speed. The study found that injuries and deaths were reported in cases where vehicles were traveling at different speeds, from as slow as 5 mph to as fast as 80 mph. The most dangerous thing that can happen while car surfing is falling from the vehicle, as this can lead to fatal head injury, even at slow speeds. One of the key risks is sudden unanticipated maneuvers, such as swerving or braking, that can force a car surfer off of the vehicle.

What can be done to help prevent teens from car surfing?

Parents and other influential adults should be aware of car surfing and its potentially deadly consequences. Adults can talk to teens about the real risk of injury and death that car surfing poses.

CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control supports parents’ efforts to keep teens safe on the road at all times. Overall, car crashes are the leading cause of death involving teenagers in the United States. Parents can play a key role in keeping teens safe by learning about graduated driver licensing laws and ensuring that their teen driver follows the rules of the road. Learn more about teen driver safety and graduated drivers licensing at

Where can I learn more about car surfing?

To learn more about car surfing, read the complete MMWR article at

Almost half of all black (45%) and Hispanic (46%) children who died in crashes were not buckled up (2009-2010).
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