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CDC Media Analysis Examines Car Surfing

Injuries and Deaths Reported at Wide Range of Speeds

For Immediate Release: October 16, 2008
Contact: Gail Hayes, CDC Injury Media Center, Phone: (770) 488-4902



Teens are getting injured or killed by riding on the outside of a moving vehicle – an activity known as car surfing, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review of newspaper articles released today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report also noted that car surfing injuries and deaths were reported at a wide range of vehicle speeds, from as low as 5 mph up to 80 mph. 

CDC researchers examined 18 years of news reports from January 1990 to August 2008 using a newspaper article database. The researchers found 99 reported incidents of car surfing, 58 percent of which were fatal. 

“While car surfing may be appealing to teens and others, our recommendation is simple – don′t do it! Even a vehicle moving at a slow speed can be deadly,” said John Halpin, M.D., the study′s lead author.

“Parents should talk to their teens about the dangers of car surfing, especially if they feel that ‘car surfing′ has gained attention and popularity in their community,” Halpin said.

Researchers excluded cases of injury related to activities that resemble car surfing, such as ghost riding, an activity that involves a driver exiting, and dancing next to a moving vehicle. They also noted that newspapers may vary in terms of the amount of attention they devote to these stories, or may not report them at all.

  • In the news stories reviewed, the average age of those injured or killed was 17.6, with males accounting for 70 percent of the victims.
  • The largest number of car surfing injuries and deaths reported in U.S. newspapers occurred in August.
  • Most (74 percent) of the news stories involved incidents in the Midwest and the South.
  • Three out of four of the news stories reported car surfing deaths were caused by a bump or blow to the head.
  • The news stories also suggest that car surfing may be both seasonal and regional in nature. 

The media analysis also found that in 29 percent of incidents, a sudden movement or maneuver was mentioned, such as an abrupt turn or sudden braking, which caused the person car surfing to fall off the vehicle. These types of falls can result in serious injuries or death, even at slow speeds.

National Teen Safe Driving Week is Oct. 19 – 25 and information from CDC is at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/duip/spotlite/teendrivers.htm, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov, and the Children′s Hospital of Philadelphia at http://stokes.chop.edu/programs/injury/our_research/ydri.php.

For a complete copy of the MMWR report, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr. For more information about CDC′s work in injury and violence prevention, please link to: http://www.cdc.gov/injury.

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