Is car surfing really becoming a national problem?
Q: Is car surfing really becoming a national problem?
A: Car surfing, where some extremely foolish person attempts to hang outside or ride on top of a moving car, has been popularized in movies for decades. How many police shows have we seen where someone runs after a car, grabs on, then falls off none the worse for wear as the car makes a sudden turn and speeds off? That is what happens with movie or TV magic, where trained stuntmen and women on specialized courses make this look real.
The reality of car surfing is not so magical. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at reported injuries from car surfing for the last 18 years, and found that there were 99 serious injuries, with 58 deaths.
Not surprisingly, more than 66 percent of those injured car surfing are teenagers aged 15 to 19, and more than 66 percent are male. Most of the time the speed of the car was not reported, but when it was, the speeds were evenly distributed between 1 to 10, 11 to 20, 21 to 20 and 31 to 40 miles per hour.
The tragedies caused by this foolhardy act go far beyond those who are hurt car surfing. The drivers of the cars when this happens are also severely affected. Consider how the teenage friends, especially if they were driving, feel when something like this happens.
With these numbers collected over 18 years, it is hard to categorize car surfing as a national epidemic. So, although injuries and fatalities from car surfing are truly a tragedy, it is clear that addressing driver safety for teens is where our efforts should be concentrated.
Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death in teenagers, responsible for more than 4,000 deaths and 400,000 emergency room treatments for 16- to 19-year-olds per year.
Teen drivers are more likely than more experienced drivers to underestimate dangerous situations. They tailgate more, drive faster and use seatbelts less, all obvious risk factors for accidents and injuries. In fact, 75 percent of fatalities in teen driver accidents were not wearing a seat belt.
Despite it being illegal for teens to drink alcohol, alcohol is a factor in about 25 percent of all accidents involving teenagers. This is not only a risk for the teenage driver; one recent national survey noted that 30 percent of teens said they had ridden as a passenger in the previous month with a teen driver who had been drinking.
The best approach to combat this problem is increased education. Studies by the American Automobile Association and Johns Hopkins University found that states with the strictest graduated licensing laws for teen drivers have up to a 20 percent to 40 percent decrease in teen motor vehicle accidents.
Common components of graduated licensing laws for teen drivers include:
- Minimum age of 15-16 for a learner's permit.
- Required basic driver's education course while a learner.
- At least 30 to 50 hours of supervised driving while a learner.
- A minimum 3 to 6 months wait between a learner's permit and an intermediate (probationary) license.
- A minimum age of 16 to 17 for an intermediate license.
Intermediate license includes a limit of 0 to 1 teenage passengers, nighttime driving restrictions and at least a six-month period before being able to take (and pass) an advanced driver's education course.
A minimum age of 17 to 18 for a full license.
The underlying theme here is to increase teen driver experience and education in a stepwise manner before giving them a full license. This education should also stress avoiding distractions while driving. Teenage drivers should not eat, text, talk on a cell phone, drive with friends in the car or play the radio loudly.
If you have a teenager about to start driving, please look into ways to make this a safer and better learning experience for them. AAA has a parent-teen driver agreement at http://www.aaapublicaffairs.com/Assets/Files/2007214956500.Parent_teencontract.pdf that can help families define how best to ensure that their new teen drivers stay safe.
There is also the Tire Rack Street Survival program (see www.streetsurvival.org for details), a hands-on teen-driving program specifically developed to help teenage drivers learn how to "avoid accidents by thinking and looking ahead," as well as other courses specifically designed for teen drivers.
Jeff Hersh, Ph.D., M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.C.P., F.A.A.E.P., can be reached at DrHersh@juno.com.