Car Surfing: A deadly phenomenon.

A 16-year-old boy, a 17-year-old girl, a 38-year-old man – all recent victims of car surfing injuries. A reckless phenomenon growing in popularity.

Car surfing is not a new term, but has recently been the focus of several news stories due to an increase in injuries and fatalities. This ‘fad’ is not something that only teens are participating in, but adults too.

“Car surfing” is a term introduced in the mid-1980s to describe a thrill-seeking activity that involves a person intentionally riding on the exterior of a moving motor vehicle while another person is driving it. Resulting injury could come from falling off the moving vehicle, falling down onto the vehicle, jumping from the vehicle, or being hit by an object while on top of the moving vehicle.

Car surfing definitely has the potential for fatal consequences, which can occur even at low vehicle speeds, sometimes resulting from unanticipated movements of the vehicle, such as swerving or braking.

On the night of June 29, 2009, Tommy Palliser was driving a sport utility vehicle when Kevin Ducharme, his girlfriend’s cousin, climbed through the sunroof to the top of the vehicle. At an intersection in the Montreal island suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, as the light turned green, the 38-year-old Ducharme fell off and hit the pavement. He died later in hospital.

This case is the first in a string of recorded cases of car surfing in Quebec that has gone to court and was the first recorded instance of car surfing in Montreal. Just weeks after Ducharme’s death, a 17-year-old girl died of her head injuries in Drummondville, Québec.

The most recent case involved a 16-year-old boy from Dorval, Quebec. Witnesses say they saw the teen crouched on the trunk of a Honda Civic that was driving circles in a school parking lot. The teen fell off the trunk and hit his head on the pavement. He was taken to a hospital with severe head injuries. He died a week later.

With the increase in car surfing cases, the Quebec government now wants to crack down on the stunt, and lawmakers are studying a bill that could lead to more severe penalties for anyone who participates in car surfing, including automatic license suspension. Currently police can charge people with offences such as dangerous driving or criminal negligence.

In one of the only medical studies on car surfing, neurosurgeons at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in 2009 found a steady rise in car surfing fatalities since 2000, with spikes after the release of various Grand Theft Auto video games and MTV’s Jackass series and movies.

According to a report by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, car surfing caused 99 injuries from 1990 to 2008. The study determined 70 per cent of the car-surfers reported injured or killed were male – and 69 per cent were age 15 to 19.

Car-surfers – mostly teen males – are largely “modelling or copycatting” the kinds of high-risk behaviour that shot to prominence with the 2002 movie Jackass and a steady stream of imitative YouTube videos of often “really dangerous” stunts, noted Jeff Deverensky, co-director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling and High Risk Behaviour, at McGill University. “They’re watching other people and they want to copy what they’re doing … to push the limits,” he added.

Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs at the Canada Safety Council, agrees. “I think what’s happening is, they’re thrill seekers. Some get addicted to the adrenalin rush. You see these types of stunts on the web, on YouTube, and some people are videotaping these things in order to put them on their web page.”

“As a reckless stunt, it’s one of the more risky, adds Marchand. “When you consider that we require that people be belted inside the car, standing on the roof of the car while travelling is extremely dangerous.”

There was a case at an Ottawa school in early June. The surfer lost balance and got pinned under the car. Thankfully, there weren’t any serious injuries.

Car surfing can turn deadly with just one wrong movement, on the drivers’ or riders’ part. When there is such a large window for severe consequences, one would wonder why people are even participating in this activity in the first place?

Tommy Palliser says he never thought he’d ever be part of such an incident, never thought that his friend would crawl through the sunroof. However, he says he’s willing to do anything to discourage others from trying it.

“It really hurts me knowing that my accident was the first in Canada, the first in Quebec. It’s even harder to think that other people are dumb enough to do this purposely.”