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Car-surfing injuries linked to video games

July 21, 2009 |  9:08 am

A group of neurosurgeons analyzing the dangerous teen activity known as car surfing has concluded that its popularity corresponds with the release of the Grand Theft Auto video game series and YouTube clips glorifying the activity.

Car surfing, thought to have originated in the Bay Area in the 1980s, is a stunt in which the "surfer" sits or stands on the hood, roof or trunk of a moving vehicle, hangs onto the sides or is dragged from a rope trailing behind. It is also called ghost riding. From 1998 to 2006, 51 California youths died in car-surfing accidents.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, is the first comprehensive look at the rising rate of injuries related to car surfing and why teens engage in such reckless behavior.

The authors analyzed statistics from the states with the most car-surfing injuries -- California, Florida and Texas -- and found a steady rise in accident rates starting in 2000. The increase in injuries corresponded to the release of the Grand Theft Auto video games (editions one through three) and the Jackass video game series and movie in 2002, according to the authors of the paper, from University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Ohio. An increase in fatalities occurred from 2004 to 2005 with the release of GTA San Andreas and the growing popularity of YouTube, the study finds. A search of YouTube archives from 2006 to 2008 produced 350 video clips showing children and teenagers engaging in car surfing.

In a study of seven car-surfing injuries at their own hospital, the authors found most injuries were to males; the average age was 13.4 years; all sustained head injuries; four suffered longterm neurologic damage.

Why would kids do this? The report is unusual because the authors conducted a broad search of statistics and popular culture to show how video games and YouTube clips appear to influence the behavior, says Dr. Ann-Christine Duhaime, in an editorial accompanying the paper.

"People do stupid things, and adolescents do some of the stupidest," Duhaime wrote, in what is perhaps one of the most accurate observations in medical literature on accidental injuries. "It is well documented that children and adolescents imitate what they see in the media, even when this is deleterious to their health."

Adults, she says, need to channel teens' need for adventure into "activities with less likelihood of life-altering, or life-ending, outcomes."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (20)

There are a number of pieces of information in this story that are incorrect. 'Car-surfing' and 'Ghostriding' are two different actions, both of which are foolish.

In the most recent edition of Grand Theft Auto, car surfing is not truly possible unless playing the PC version of the game with some self-made changes to the game data, so the influence must come from elsewhere or the children simply think it seems like a 'cool' idea.

Also looking back to before Youtube debuted and before the widespread popularity of games influences for both of these activities can be found within other media which are not so aggresively targeted as games. Such as movies, television and popular music.

Video games are the hot-button issue these days and people are quick to blame, what likely would have prevented most if not all of these injuries would have been some actual, hands-on parenting which so few children are actually getting. If parents would try monitoring thier kids and maybe talking to them once in a blue moon about important and dangerous issues we would see less blame laid on media and a dramatic drop off in foolish activities from youth and a lot more accountablity from adults.

If the child can't understand the consequences of riding around on a moving vehicle at high speed then the only way they are likely to learn is through experience, because obviously the parents never took the time to monitor or speak with their children on such matters.

By the same methods that these researchers linked this behaviour to Youtube and games I could probably link this behaviour to several items such as: Young Parents, Large Disposable Income, Lack of Guidance, Low School Grades and just for fun high sodium diets. Research in these fuzzy areas as in "what influences someone to do something" can easily be made to look any way, for whosoever wishes to push thier point of view.

I agree with Kyle's post.

Correlation is not causation. Plain and simple. If car surfing is on the rise in the same year a video game is released, that is a correlation. The implication is that video games CAUSE teenagers to car surf and there is not one tiny iota of evidence to back up that implication. This group of neurosurgeons would do well to find the REAL cause of car surfing and cease scaring parents into taking the wrong tac on this. I am 47 years old and have played through all of the missions in ALL of the Grand Theft Auto games and NEVER ONCE saw anyone car surfing in those games. Gentlemen: Get your house in order or be seen as the fools that you are.

Good post Kyle - you're exactly right, ghost riding was invented in the Bay area and is NOT the same as car surfing. Its popularity can be traced to youtube with videos such as Mistah Fab music videos, etc.

Why is there a picture of someone drifting (a professional automotive sport) headlining this article. I fear this piece was written in ignorance.

How could parents deal with their children these days when the parents usually see their children awake for a few minutes in the morning and later when these very same parents come back from work in the evening (when usually the children are already at sleep)? And we need research scientists to figure out what causes our children's problematic behavior? It seems it is always easier to divert the attention away from the real causes and come up with scape goats to be blamed like Youtube and video games. This is what News agencies are for, to divert attention from real problems or from the real cause of the problems! Fortunately not all of us are blind fools who can't see the forest for the trees!

This is just an example of Darwin's theory of evolution at work. Nothing more, nothing less.


Please, PLEASE check with Alex Pham or someone with even rudimentary knowledge of the video game industry before writing a piece that you know will be widely and blindly re-reported. You can't car surf in Grad Theft Auto without modifying the code, the Jackass came out in 2007, and ghost riding is NOT car surfing.

Evolution in action... why fight it?

Just give them a Darwin award and move on.

This is going to sound harsh, but anyone who is dumb enough to try "ghostriding" or "car surfing" and dies at it is doing the world's population a huge favor. Darwin was right.

Good posts. I thought the newspaper was supposed to inform us, not the other way around.

I knew people who did this back in the '60s in Wisconsin. Of course, they were drunk when they did it. But it was going on before 1980.

the games are rated according to age appropiness. where are the parents? i am 36 years old and i have been playing video games for 30 years and am proud to have my kids enjoy the games that are out today WITH PARENTAL GUIDENCE!!
IDIOT PARENTS!! if you are going to let them play video games with violence,explaine to them not to protray actions outside the tv screen!!

Neurosurgeons are highly schooled people so all of their opinions must be right, regardless of the presence/absence of a factual basis.

So, i've got my pitchfork and torch; should we hit the Houser residence before or after Michael J. Fox's? oh - better bring something pointy and silver - he's a werewolf you know.

Glad to see these neurosurgeons who must've gone to school for an unbelievably long time are using their skills to help people avoid the absolutely horrific dangers of video games and fun. You'd think having people ride on top of moving vehicles would give them more brain surgery business, but no -- these people are not just out to make a quick buck. They are standing up for what they believe in: desperately saving kids from entertainment that keeps them busy while their parents aren't around. God forbid kids have a way to safely live out their fantasies without any threat of injury or failure. That MUST be the reason some abused kids who are ignored by their parents turn to their friends for attention and under peer pressure decide to ride on top of a car. It was those darned video games. Of course. I never would've realized the connection if it weren't for the excellent reporting skills of the L.A. Times and the brave research of these scientists.

I'll go tell all the kids I know to stop watching YouTube videos where people get horrible injuries from carsurfing. At first I thought funny videos like that would teach kids by example what happens when you do stupid things. But now I realize that those videos would not save our children but instead, motivate them to do acts like that themselves! So much for those big warnings with the Jackass movies about not trying any of the professional stunts at home. Thanks tax-dollar-funded science! You saved the day again!!

If this "story" is what passes for journalism nowadays, I can see why newspapers are an endagered species. Doesn't anyone bother to check facts anymore? Has everyone gone to the "Fox news" school of journalism, where nothing gets in the way of a sensationalized story? This is just plain sad.

Awful article or awful scholarship, I'm not sure which. Correlation isn't causation. Car surfing has been on the rise since 1998. Certain media products have been released since 1998. That doesn't mean they're connected - at all.

The increase in car surfing accidents has coincided with the increase in the number of media products showing stupid stunts and/or cars.

How about this:

The increase in car surfing accidents has coincided with the increase of GPS navigation aids in cars.

The increase in car surfing accidents has coincided with the increase of satellite radio services for cars.

The increase in car surfing accidents has coincided with the increase superhero movies in which cars were destroyed.

All these are true. We can do this all day. That two things happen at the same time, even if there is some common thread (such as automobiles being involved) indicates precisely nothing.

I wish those guys knew how to do research correctly. You can't car surf in GTA.

Maybe they should see if car surfing incidents rose when "teen wolf" came out in the 80's.

Looks like another combination of "worthless research project that gives professors/grad students jobs" and poor journalism.

13.4 years of age on average? who is driving the car?

Ummm... in GTA you can't car surf as far as I know... also when I was 13 I sure as heck was not allowed to take the car out for a spin and do something like this. The closest I got was driving an old clunker around a field in our back yard, faaaaaaaaaaaaaar away from the roads and with a parent in the car with me.


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